Is Twitter Censoring? Heck yes they are.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but it can’t be ignored. My favorite social media tool is manipulating what people see. But why is Twitter censoring their users? This is the more difficult question.

First, some context. After massive layoffs to Buzz Feed and Huffington Post, many took to Twitter to mercilessly mock the journalists who had been laid off. Childish? Yes. Low? Yes. But violent or dangerous? No. Despite this, Twitter began taking down tweets that used the hashtag #learntocode, moving to remove other Tweets that even seemed to reference it without the hashtag.

I reached out to Twitter regarding censorship.

I reached out to Twitter for comment asking what was going on and I received the following statement from Katie Rosborough in their communications department.

Katie Rosborough:
It’s more nuanced than what was initially reported. Twitter is responding to a targeted harassment campaign against specific individuals — a policy that’s long been against the Twitter Rules.

But that wasn’t the full story. I had emails proving that simply using the hashtag resulted in Twitter censoring the content. These were not at any specific individual but were being taken down anyway. I explained this to Rosborough who had the following reply.

Katie Rosborough:
Hi Justin — Any examples you can share? If so, I can look into this further.

Thanks,
Katie

I replied with the detailed text from the Tweets, but she wanted more information.

Katie Rosborough:
Thanks. Without the specific Tweets, it’s difficult. If you have any links, I’d certainly be happy to look into them further.

She wanted actual proof of my Twitter censoring claims, so on January 28nd I finally sent her specific screenshots from listeners that had submitted via email, and she quickly replied she’d get back to me, but she didn’t. After a few reminders, however, I finally got the following on February 5th.

Katie Rosborough:
All I can share on the record (according to a Twitter spokesperson) is that we don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.

That’s it. After asking for the actual tweets, and then providing them suddenly, Twitter was unable to comment for privacy reasons. Why would they deny Twitter censoring users content, ask for proof, then say they can’t comment when the very proof they requested was provided? Perhaps because the evidence spoke for itself.

A large number of users who posted the hashtag #LearnToCode and somehow referenced The Huffington Post, Buzz Feed in any way, had their tweet removed. Period. Many users had received replies this conflicted with Twitter’s official harassment policy. But that targeted harassment policy seems to change based on who is actually being harassed.

I decided to ask if the same targeted harassment control was used by people attacking the Covington Catholic kids on Twitter but got no response at all. As you can see from the Tweet below, that is still available online, harassment seems to be ok in some cases, even calling for violence, but in other cases, off limits.

Theories Behind Twitter Censoring Users

I have a few working theories on why Twitter censoring is happening driven by user feedback, listener response and some tech people in the industry. Although I can’t get Twitter to officially comment on these, they seem highly likely.

Theory 1: Twitter Censoring To Control The Message

The first theory is the most obvious one. Twitter simply wants to control the message and prevent certain hashtags from trending. I really don’t think it’s because of some super-secret liberal agenda, however. I think it’s more personal than that.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder happens to know Jonah Peretti, the founder of both The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed —the supposed targets of Twitter harassment. They’ve spoken at many of the same conferences and their companies announced a major partnership in October of 2016 on election coverage.

It’s possible, facing a PR disaster Peretti simply called up Dorsey and asked him to help out a bit. This alone would explains why Twitter cast such a large and unusual net in taking down nearly all tweets that were threatening.

Theory 2: Twitter Censoring Based On User Feedback

Some Tweets taken down are so insanely innocent, there is no way an employee at Twitter actually took them down. This is likely because Twitter has AI-driven cues that will automatically take down Tweets based on a specific amount of user feedback within a given period. The formula likely has to do with the number of reports received within a specified time period, possibly with extra weight being assigned to certain people.

This is likely why this Tweet by Ben Shapiro‘s business partner, Jeremy Boreing got taken down, despite its benign contents.

 

 

Whatever the true reason behind Twitter censoring users may be, we likely will never know. I truly hope Twitter comes clean about this. As Facebook and Google censor people mercilessly, we could all use a trustworthy platform. But… I’m not going to hold my breath.

 

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