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December 9, 2022

How Twitter Silenced Conservatives

The second “Twitter Files” release provides concrete evidence of how censorship really took place.

“Shadow banning” is a term for what Big Tech companies have been doing for years to suppress primarily conservative speech. Occasionally you hear news that so-and-so was banned from Twitter or Facebook, but the far more prevalent redlining of free speech is shadow banning, wherein the user may or may not even suspect anything is going on as a social media platform silently reduces his reach and squelches his voice.

The second big “Twitter Files” release by Elon Musk now provides real evidence of just that.

Nearly five years ago, former Twitter software engineer Abhinov Vadrevu explained: “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. So they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it.”

Journalist Bari Weiss, one of the reporters to whom Musk has entrusted these files, confirms as much in a long thread on Twitter. “A new #TwitterFiles 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,” Weiss began. “All in secret, without informing users.”

Not just in secret, but with flat-out lies and denials. “Twitter denied that it does such things,” Weiss said. “In 2018, Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde (then Head of Legal Policy and Trust) and Kayvon Beykpour (Head of Product) said: ‘We do not shadow ban.’ They added: ‘And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.’” Twitter’s official account said in July 2018, “People are asking us if we shadow ban. We don’t.”

Oh yes they did.

The Twitter bigwigs don’t all call it shadow banning, of course. They call it “Visibility Filtering” or “VF.” One Twitter executive explained: “Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool.”

Weiss went into detail on who and how: “The group that decided whether to limit the reach of certain users was the Strategic Response Team — Global Escalation Team, or SRT-GET. It often handled up to 200 ‘cases’ a day. But there existed a level beyond official ticketing, beyond the rank-and-file moderators following the company’s policy on paper. That is the ‘Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,’ known as ‘SIP-PES.’”

She included screenshots from Twitter’s own system applying certain labels like “Trends Blacklist,” “Search Blacklist,” or “Do Not Amplify” to disfavored individuals. Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of anti-COVID lockdown Great Barrington Declaration fame was one victim. Popular radio host Dan Bongino was another. Conservative firebrand Charlie Kirk was a third.

We don’t know how extensively these terms were applied or to what accounts, but Musk announced, “Twitter is working on a software update that will show your true account status, so you know clearly if you’ve been shadowbanned, the reason why and how to appeal.” In any case, we have known for many years that, somehow, this sort of algorithmic manipulation was exactly the tactic for speech suppression used by Twitter as well as Facebook.

The Patriot Post’s Facebook page, for example, has suffered immense traffic suppression since June 2020. Only a fraction of our 736,000 followers see any of our posts, and traffic from Facebook to our website has plummeted to only 10-15% of what it once was. There’s no way that happened naturally. As Weiss has proved with concrete evidence of Twitter’s censorship, our experience is hardly unique among conservative news sites or personalities on either major social media platform.

Indeed, after this Twitter bombshell, that sound you hear in the distance is the shredders and secure emptying of virtual trash cans at Facebook headquarters.

Twitter is the platform preferred by those who want to quickly disseminate news and information. Elections can and have hinged on what voters learn via Twitter. Thus, it is vitally important for the health of our Republic that dialogue freely take place.

George Orwell didn’t write 1984 as an instruction manual, but the real life Thought Police at Twitter were using it that way, making a concerted effort to reduce the reach of anyone espousing “thoughtcrime.”

Twitter is a private company, but it is also one of the nation’s foremost platforms for speech. If that speech isn’t free — or is even suppressed, sometimes at the behest of the federal government and with the filtering of a former FBI lawyer — then the First Amendment has clearly been infringed in both letter and spirit.

Tell us again who is the “threat to democracy”?

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