Twitter's new owner Elon Musk has revealed that the company is working on a new update to let users know if they are "shadow banned." Unlike an outright ban on content or profiles, a shadow ban refers to decreasing the visibility or partially blocking a user's posts from appearing on searches and popular suggestions. In other words, the practice upholds freedom of speech to an extent, but it practically makes their posts redundant, since no one can see them. Musk announced the development amid allegations by Free Press founder Bari Weiss that Twitter employees "build blacklists" to "prevent disfavored tweets from trending."
In a tweet, Musk announced that Twitter is "working on a software update" that would show "true account status". He added, "you know clearly if you've been shadowbanned, the reason why and how to appeal." A similar announcement was made by Instagram earlier this week. However, Musk's tweet is particularly crucial as Twitter has denied shadow banning in the past. For instance, in 2018, former Twitter executive Vijaya Gadde and current Twitter GM (consumer) Kayvon Beykpour categorically denied shadow ban allegations in a blog post that reads, "People are asking us if we shadow ban. We do not."
Meanwhile, Weiss shared more details in a long series of tweets and the first tweet reads, "A new Twitter Files investigation reveals that teams of Twitter employees build blacklists, prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics - all in secret, without informing users." Weiss also alleges that Twitter placed Stanford's Dr Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that Covid lockdowns would harm children, in a secret "Trends Blacklist." Even some right-wing and conservative profiles have been put in specific categories to prevent their tweets from trending, in other words shadow banned.
In one of the tweets, Weiss notes that Twitter executives and employees refer to shadow banning as "Visibility Filtering" or "VF." As the name suggests, the tool aids in suppressing the visibility of the account. She also said that two Twitter employees confirmed that the company controls "visibility quite a bit". It also controls the "amplification" of "content quite a bit." As expected, regular users are not aware of this.
It is unclear who is currently overseeing "Visibility Filtering" at Twitter, since Musk has laid off half of the staff, including former legal head Vijay Gadde, who denied shadow banning in 2018. Musk's order to roll out the update coincides with his previous tweet where he said that the social media platform will become a hub for free speech.
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