CEO Jack Dorsey and top Twitter employees, as well as members of the liberal media, have repeatedly claimed over the years that the social media company did not “shadow ban” users or secretly censor conservative accounts.
Yet, the second installment of the “Twitter Files” released Thursday revealed a comprehensive system and internal communications in which the social media site created secret “blacklists” that applied to certain users and tweets, many of which leaned right politically.
According to journalist Bari Weiss, Twitter prevented disfavored tweets from trending and limited the visibility of entire accounts and topics—all without informing account holders.
Stanford University’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, an opponent of COVID lockdowns, was ticketed as “trends Blacklist” internally, and Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk was labeled “Do Not Amplify.” Many other users, often criticized by left-leaning figures, also saw their accounts throttled.
Twitter executives and liberal journalists and pundits repeatedly insisted that shadow banning and censorship on the platform did not exist. In other instances, Twitter and Dorsey used vague language or narrow views of what shadow banning entailed when pressed on the matter.
In July 2018, Vice News reported that several Republican politicians were not appearing in suggested searches on Twitter when their names were typed in. Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour claimed it was an issue with “behavioral signals and machine learning.”
The next day, top Twitter lawyer Vijaya Gadde and Beykpour released a blog post in which they insisted “we do not shadow ban.”
“You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology,” Beykpour and Gadde wrote.
Dorsey added more context to the blog post in a subsequent tweet, writing that Twitter does not shadow ban generally or more specifically against certain political viewpoints.
“We do rank tweets by default to make Twitter more immediately relevant (which can be flipped off),” he added.
Following the release of “Twitter Files 2.0,” Beykpour pushed back on the idea that Twitter was shadow banning, referencing the blog post.
“We never denied de-amplifying things. In fact, we made clear that we do rank. We defined exactly what we meant by “shadow banning” (b/c there are many definitions) and made very clear that we didn’t do *that*…”
He then followed up with another tweet in which he accused Weiss of “deliberately misleading” readers or creating a “lazy interpretation” by equating “de-amplification” with “shadow banning.”
In the blog post, Twitter offered this narrow definition to define shadow banning: “Deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster.”
Liberal tech journalist Kara Swisher rushed to Beykpour’s defense, claiming that no Twitter executive ever denied “de-amplifying accounts,” and that the use of the term “shadow ban” sounded more “sinister.”
Several journalists and left-leaning figures also slammed critics for worrying about shadow banning, asserting that Musk himself was a proponent of the term.
The critique was likely a reference to Musk’s statement on Dec. 8, when he wrote “Twitter is working on software update that will show your true account status, so you know clearly if you’ve been shadow banned, the reason why and how to appeal.” On Nov. 18, he noted “Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” saying “negative/hate” tweets would “be max deboosted & demonetized.” Some liberal journalists pointed to those words this week as proof that Musk was guilty of the same conduct as previous leadership.
However, the main difference between Musk’s policy and the policy under previous Twitter ownership appears to be that users in the past were not made aware of how their accounts or posts were being throttled by the site.
Dorsey testified under oath to Congress on Sept. 5, 2018, that the company does not censor conservatives.
“I want to read a few quotes about Twitter’s practices and I just want you to tell me if they’re true or not,” Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., said. “Social media is being rigged to censor conservatives. Is that true of Twitter?”
“No,” Dorsey responded.
“Are you censoring people?” Doyle asked next.
“No,” Dorsey answered.
“Twitter’s shadow banning prominent Republicans… is that true?” Doyle followed.
“No,” Dorsey said.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April 2019, Twitter Director of Public Policy and Philanthropy Carlos Monje, Jr., was asked if the company engaged in shadow banning.
Monje denied that Twitter engaged in the practice, but admitted that the company would “downgrade” users’ posts “if we have signals that indicate that a person is being spammy, meaning they are using multiple accounts to do the same thing if they are using automated activity, but we’re not 100 percent sure that they’re breaking our rules, if they’ve been abusive, then what we will do is make it harder for that content to be found.”
In October 2020, after Dorsey called the blocking of URL sharing or direct messages involving the New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s laptop “unacceptable,” the host of “The Rubin Report,” Dave Rubin, asked Dorsey whether shadow banning occurs at the company based off political ideology.
“No,” Dorsey replied.
Major liberal media networks largely defended Twitter, similarly asserting that the company did not shadow ban, or at the very least, was not disproportionately censoring conservative voices.
“Trump says right-wing voices are being censored. The data says something else,” CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote on CNN Business in May 2020.
The actual data in the article completed omitted any mention of Twitter, only focusing on data derived from Facebook.
Another headline from CNN’s Hunter Schwarz read “Donald Trump Jr. has a history of incorrectly suggesting Twitter is censoring or blocking tweets.”
Refutations about shadow banning could also be found on-air.
Dorsey, in August 2018, was asked by then-CNN host Brian Stelter about the “truth” behind shadow banning.
“So, I think a lot of the statements behind the statements and the question behind the question is—look shadow banning is a very widely defined term. There’s not one single definition,” Dorsey said, before reading off the definition presented in the blog post.
“The real question behind the question is are we doing something according to political ideology or viewpoints, and we are not,” he added.
In March 2019, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt claimed that shadow banning on Twitter had been “debunked,” by none other than Twitter themselves.
“This has been debunked by Twitter—they say that this is not something that they actively engage in,” she said.