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So What Exactly Is 'Shadow Banning'?

Trump says White House will look into whether Twitter is treating conservatives unfairly
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2018 11:05 AM CDT
Your Hot New Political Phrase: 'Shadow Banning'
President Trump gestures to music as he arrives to speak to the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States National Convention Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(Newser) – President Trump said Thursday the White House will look into complaints that Twitter is treating conservatives unfairly by limiting their voice on the platform. "Twitter 'SHADOW BANNING' prominent Republicans," he tweeted. "Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints." The tweet comes after reports surfaced about the practice and Twitter promised to investigate. Details of what's happening, including what is broadly meant by "shadow banning":

  • A definition: "Shadow banning" means punishing a user by making his posts visible only to himself, explains Brian Feldman at New York. The idea is that the user will then get tired of posting and leave voluntarily because of a lack of interaction. Under this definition, that's not really what was happening as described by a Vice News article, which has been seized on by Republicans and apparently the president himself. (No, "Twitter Is Not 'Shadow Banning' Republicans" is the New York headline.)
  • The Vice story: On Wednesday, the news outlet reported that the names of several big-name figures on the right no longer auto-populated in the site's popular drop-down search box, and it used the term "shadow banning" in its original headline. Those names included RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, a number of conservative congressmen (including Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz), and the spokesman for Donald Trump Jr. However, the story said the same didn't apply for well-known liberal figures and lawmakers, with none of the 78 members of the Progressive Caucus affected. (An update to the story says the "shadow ban" problem appears to have been fixed.)

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  • Twitter's response: "We are aware that some accounts are not automatically populating in our search box and shipping a change to address this," a spokesperson told Vice in the original story. "I'd emphasize that our technology is based on account *behavior* not the content of tweets." Twitter also referenced this company blog post from May, which states that after changes to the platform to crack down on "troll-like behavior," those "contributing to the healthy conversation will be more visible in conversations and search." That is, those who interact with the fringe might be limited as a result, per ThinkProgress.
  • On the left, too: Ashley Feinberg of HuffPost points out that leftists were being similarly affected by the drop-down search limitations.
  • Gizmodo story: The Vice article follows one in Gizmodo over the weekend reporting that far-right figures such as white nationalists Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer were being buried in search results. The Vice News report goes further, suggesting that far more mainstream figures on the right also were being affected.
  • 'Victimized': Whatever the term being used, Florida Rep. Gaetz tells the Hill he feels "victimized and violated by a platform that holds itself out to be a public forum." His office reports a "significant decrease" in retweets and followers gained since the above-mentioned May blog post by Twitter.
  • Facebook, Infowars: The Twitter controversy is playing out as Facebook comes under criticism for refusing to pull controversial content from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his far-right site Infowars, reports Politico. YouTube recently yanked four of Jones' videos and banned Infowars for broadcasting for 90 days, and Mark Zuckerberg has declined to follow suit. Forbes has details on the yanked videos, including one titled, "How to Prevent Liberalism" that shows a kid pestering a man, then being shoved to the ground.
(Read more President Trump stories.)

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