The many ways that social media companies censor users

The many ways that social media companies censor users

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When people think of social media censorship, they think of reports of users having their post deleted by the tech companies. This, however, may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of how tech companies control and influence your thoughts.

Up through November 1, 2018, I was consistently adding about 10 new followers every week to my Twitter account and had reached almost 1,800. Then something odd happened.

On November 1, the ACA marketplace opened and I posted some price quotes for sample ACA policies using screen captures from 100% factual content. The prices were very high for those lacking subsidy options. This did not reflect well on the ACA’s affordability goals.

IMMEDIATELY my new followers went to zero. As in the very next day. And the week after that. And the month after that. I added zero new followers. And it stayed like this forever ever. Twitter appears to have issued a ban on my account, as best I could tell. Coupled with privacy concerns, I since deleted all of my past content and only use Twitter occasionally now, to keep in touch with some specific people.

Second, Twitter decides whether your “Tweet” is seen by your followers, or whether it appears in search results. Twitter controls the viewability – and Twitter can and does de-prioritize tweets that Twitter does not like.

Third, Twitter has, in the past, randomly inserted Tweets from people we do not follow, supposedly as a way to encourage interaction with more people. Conversely, Twitter can intentionally choose not to give your Tweet similar exposure to others.

Fourth, Twitter removes followers at random. In some cases, your followers might be spam accounts and Twitter has suspended those accounts. But many users report unexplained wipe outs of followers made up of real people.

Fifth, Twitter has taken to issuing “warnings” when you click a link that goes to outside content which Twitter has unilaterally decided might be, possibly, perhaps, kind of, we think, disinformation. Even when the content is 100% factual and sourced to reliable citations. Twitter is informing you that this link goes to “wrong think”.

Fifth and a half(!) – Twitter simply hides replies to Tweets of others, typically those of “official organizations”. There is nothing offensive about the tweets that were hidden here.

Sixth, “shadow bans”. Twitter did, inadvertently acknowledge that it uses “shadow bans”. Shadow bans can take more than one form. One is that when you post something, only you see it, such that you think you are “live”. But your post is actually hidden and not visible to anyone else. The other approach is that your tweets go “live”, but Twitter shows them exclusively to people who already follow you – and they do not show up in searches of Twitter content.

Seventh, social media companies manipulate search results. Recently, a search for “vaccine” on Facebook restricts search results exclusively to officially approved government, corporate and non-profit organization sources. It is reasonable to assume that most searches are now manipulated by social media tech companies.

Facebook does crap like this too. I know for fact that Facebook issues “shadow bans”. A long time ago, I had this blog automatically cross post to a FB page I created for Social Panic. That page was getting user interaction. Then just like that – gone. Not a single like or comment. Not until months later did I review the statistics for the page and discover that I was the only person who was seeing the posts. My page had become invisible – but FB let me see the posts (the definition of shadow ban) so that I thought I was still publishing. In that particular case, I gave FB the “shadow of doubt” – this may have occurred because they falsely flagged the WordPress cross posts as “spam”. But the posting frequency was so low that this seems unlikely.

A local news paper shadow banned a comment I made. All I did was cite specific government data, with a link to the citation, that presenting additional information to their news article. My comment was visible to me. But when I logged out, my comment vanished. When I logged back in, my comment was visible to me. I logged out again – and my comment vanished. The Oregonian had shadow banned my comment – a literal censorship designed to fool me in to think I had not been censored. When newspapers engage in censorship like this, they lose all credibility – it means their staff can and do censor even their own content to ensure that the paper delivers the approved narrative.

In effect, all social media companies are now content censor companies who strive to deliver their own corporate messages via curating the content of their user community – the community that generates 100% of the content, for free.


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