Taking effect at the beginning of next year, Twitter’s new terms initially don’t look like much to write home about, but some tweaks to the language could have larger repercussions for users, limiting their reach behind the scenes, without their knowledge.
“We may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you,” the new terms state (emphasis added).
With the addition of those four words, the company is telling users it will shadow ban or “throttle” certain accounts, though on what basis it will make those decisions – or whether they will be made solely by an automated algorithm – remains unclear.
While Twitter has previously insisted point-blank “We do not shadow ban,” in the pre-2020 terms the company splits hairs between shadow banning and “ranking” posts to determine their prominence on the site, and acknowledged deliberately down-ranking “bad-faith actors” to limit their visibility.
In January of last year, moreover, conservative media watchdog group Project Veritas published footage purporting to show Abhinov Vadrevu, a former Twitter software engineer, discussing shadow banning as a “strategy” the company was at least considering, if not already using.
“One strategy is to shadow ban so you have ultimate control. The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and no one sees their content,” Vadrevu said.
So they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it.
Later in 2018, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey would also spill the beans that the site’s algorithms were “unfairly” filtering some 600,000 user accounts from auto-generated search suggestions, though he maintained it was the result of an error.
Past “mistakes” and suspicions aside, despite the company’s repeated denials, the new terms will solidify shadow bans as policy, all but guaranteeing continued cries of bias and censorship from the platform’s many critics.
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