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Explained: What is Twitter shadow ban Elon Musk is talking about, why it should matter to you

Explained: What is Twitter shadow ban Elon Musk is talking about, why it should matter to you

A shadow ban refers to partially blocking or blacklisting a user's profile to reduce visibility without their knowledge. It may lead to less engagement with the account and low visibility of posts.

Story highlights
  • Twitter has technically acknowledged that some users may have been shadow banned.
  • In 2018, Twitter denied allegations of shadow banning.
  • There are some third party tools to check if your account is impacted.

Twitter along with Instagram is rolling out updates to let users know if they are "shadow banned." Although the shadow ban is not a new concept, the latest announcements by the two social media giants loosely confirm that companies have silenced some accounts instead of outright banning them, which is a significant revelation. Meanwhile, Twitter is facing heat from Free Press founder Bari Weiss, who alleges that Elon Musk's company have actively shadow-banned some accounts to "prevent disfavored tweets from trending."

But the question remains: What is a shadow ban? Can you check if your profile has been shadow banned? We are covering all that in this article.

What is a shadow ban and what is Twitter saying?

To put it simply, a shadow ban refers to partially blocking or blacklisting a user's profile to reduce visibility without their knowledge. It may lead to less engagement with the account and low visibility of posts instead of an outright ban. In other words, followers cannot see your posts on a social media platform.

To tackle this problem, Elon Musk revealed that Twitter is working on a software update to show the "true account status", so users know clearly if they have been shadowbanned. It will also highlight the reason and steps to appeal. Instagram has also announced a similar update without explicitly saying shadow ban.

The company says users can soon view their "Account Status." The post reads:

"Account Status will be your one-stop shop to see what's happening with your account and content distribution. We'll start by making it easier for people to know whether their account is at risk of being disabled. In the coming months, we plan to add more information to this tool, giving people a better sense of how their content is being distributed and recommended across different parts of Instagram."

Why is the announcement significant?

While Instagram is still playing it safe by not calling it a shadow ban, Twitter has technically acknowledged that some users may have been shadow banned. It is more significant now because Twitter completely denied allegations about the platform shadow-banning user accounts in 2018.

At that time, Twitter's then-policy head Vijaya Gadde, who was recently fired by Musk, denied allegations of shadow banning. In a shared blog post with Kayvon Beykpour (who is still at the company), Gadde wrote, "We do not shadow ban. You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don't shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology."

It means that the platform possesses the power to suppress views and opinions without informing the user and it has probably done it in the past. If grossly misused, it may even favour political parties in elections.

Why is Twitter addressing the shadow ban now?

There are two parts to this answer. Firstly, Elon Musk has repeated multiple times in the past that he wants his platform to become a hub for free speech. If the platform indeed muzzles users' voices and opinions, it contradicts his own statement.

More importantly, the development comes at a time when The Free Press's Bari Weiss posted a long series of tweets about how Twitter shadow banned some accounts. Her 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 alleges that Twitter placed Stanford's Dr Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that Covid lockdowns would harm children, in a secret "Trends Blacklist." Some right-wing and conservative profiles have allegedly been silenced too, in other words, shadow banned. She claims Twitter executives and employees refer to shadow banning as "Visibility Filtering" or "VF. However, a former Twitter employee, Sachee tweeted that VF refers to hiding content from one's timeline. The tool is already available to users.

Can you check if you're shadow banned?

Twitter and Instagram are yet to offer more details about their upcoming tools and guidelines. However, there are some third-party tools to check if your account is impacted.

For example, users can use this free website (shadow ban yuzurisa) to check if their account is being hidden in searches.

Published on: Dec 09, 2022, 12:48 PM IST
Posted by: BT Siteadmin, Dec 09, 2022, 12:41 PM IST