RT, December 4, 2019
Twitter’s new terms of service will allow the platform to “shadow ban” users – secretly suppressing their content. While critics have long suspected the company of doing it, the new rules appear to make the practice official.
Taking effect in January 2020, 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 reserves the right shadow ban or “throttle” certain accounts. On what basis will it 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 split 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 2018, moreover, conservative media watchdog group Project Veritas published footage showing 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.
Later that year, 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,” suspicions and the company’s repeated denials aside, the new terms will solidify shadow bans as policy, all but guaranteeing continued cries of bias and censorship from the platform’s many critics.