‘Twitter files’ claim prominent right-wing figures have been ‘blacklisted’ | Science and technology news
Twitter has been accused of secretly “blacklisting” prominent right-wing figures in the US to ensure they reach smaller audiences.
High-profile right-wing figures – like talk show host Dan Bongino, conservative activist Charlie Kirk and anti-lockdown campaigner Dr. Jay Bhattacharya – Apparently demoted from Twitter staff before it was taken over by Elon Musk.
The “blacklists,” which limited accounts’ visibility or prevented them from appearing in Twitter’s list of trending topics, were exposed as part of the so-called Twitter files.
The Twitter files that appear to be straight from muskcontain detailed internal documents from the previous regime at Twitter, including internal messages and screenshots from admin tools.
They were shared with a group of right-wing journalists who share Musk’s views on free speech.
The controversial billionaire has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” battling a “wake-mind virus.”
Ex-Twitter employees sue over layoffs
Musk’s ‘chainsaw’ strategy ‘doesn’t bode well’
How were right-wing figures “blacklisted”?
The documents point to Dr. Bhattacharya from Stanford, one of a group of scientists who argued that in order to develop herd immunity, COVID-19 should be allowed to spreadHe was secretly placed on a “trends blacklist” that prevented his tweets from trending.
Right-wing talk show host Bongino was placed on a “black search list,” meaning his tweets would not appear in search results.
According to the report published on Twitter, this practice was known internally as “visibility filtering.”
“Think of visibility filters as a way for us to suppress what people see at different levels. It’s a very powerful tool,” a Twitter executive told Bari Weiss, who is part of a group of journalists given extensive access to Twitter’s internal documentation.
Another Twitter engineer said: “We control visibility quite heavily. And we pretty much control the boosting of your content. And normal people don’t know how much we do.”
Click here to subscribe to Sky News Daily, wherever you get your podcasts
Twitter has always denied secretly downgrading certain accounts, a practice sometimes known as shadow banning.
In 2018, the site’s head of legal policy and trust, as well as product head, wrote a blog that read, “We don’t shadow a ban.”
“And we’re certainly not shadowing the ban based on political stance or ideology,” they added.
However, the company openly admitted to reducing the visibility of tweets in search and trending topics.
It also ordered tweets, a practice that included downgrading “tweets from malicious actors intending to manipulate or share the conversation,” a habit the blog implied and was more common among right-wing individuals.
How do other platforms work?
The practice of “blacklisting” and “whitelisting” specific users is common on social media and other internet companies like Google or YouTube, where they are used to ensure websites display the most relevant content.
In fact, Musk suggested that Twitter under his control would use a similar technique, promoting useful tweets and demoting “negative/hating” ones.
However, questions have been raised about the arbitrary manner in which these demotions and promotions are being carried out.
Just this week, the panel investigating Meta found that celebrities, politicians and business partners have been given additional latitude to break the rules on Instagram and Facebook, a practice it called “real harm.”
“I hope (perhaps naively) that Musk has now set a precedent for more transparency for future Twitter moderation and even moderation elsewhere on other platforms and news outlets,” said Charlie Beckett, professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics .
“Make everything public now”
Although the Twitter files purport to shed light on this murky practice, they have been criticized for offering a partial, politically motivated look at the real picture inside the company in order to paint a positive picture of Musk.
“If the goal is transparency to build trust, why not just publish everything without filters and let people judge for themselves? Including any discussion of current and future actions? Make everything public now,” former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey complained to Musk on Twitter.
Musk has promised more revelations to come soon.
“The most important data has been hidden (from you too) and some may have been deleted,” he replied to Mr Dorsey, “but anything we find will be made public.”