My experience of real-time censorship on Twitter

I had a very odd experience this week, while I was away in York, and since it seems to be little known, I thought I’d share it with you.  In brief, I encountered real-time interference with the tweeting process while I was on twitter.

Over the last year or so Twitter has taken to interfering with the user by displaying all sorts of unwanted material when you hit the search button.  These are topics that are “trending” – attracting lots of tweets – although if you look at the number of tweets you can quickly see that Twitter is gaming the process to promote certain subjects.  They’ve also added “moments” which are much the same, but where they don’t even pretend that it is other than a choice.

These are objectionable as they tend to be sensationalist, chose to drive clicks and traffic, and so tend to disturb you from what you were doing.  They are intending to steal your attention.  And it works.

I found myself looking at a “moment” which was about free speech, a long term interest of mine.  The tweets consisted of establishment types and others gloating about some new form of censorship, where the victim would also be jailed.

I forgot myself enough to reply to two of them, pointing out that the revolution always devours its children, and did they want to be imprisoned too, for something they said.

Two of these replies I posted.  When I composed a third tweet, and pressed the send button, it did not send.  It hung there.  I thought that I had missed the button, so I clicked again and it sent.

The next time the same thing happened.  But when I clicked send again – I knew that I had already pressed send once – still nothing happened.  In fact it sat there.  The screen would not refresh, even.  But … I quickly found that I could press Cancel.  I did, and my control of the system returned.

Of course one might assume this was network trouble.  But it wasn’t.

A couple more attempts, and I realised that something or someone was watching me tweet, and blocking my attempts to respond negatively to tweets on this “moment”.

I confirmed this very simply.  I stopped tweeting to that moment, and went off and tweeted replies elsewhere.  I had not the slightest difficulty all evening.

Twitter is a rich company.  It’s possible for them to employ herds of minions to censor comments on certain threads, or whatever.  It could also be a bot, I suppose; but the sudden cessation is suspicious.

It’s all very awful.  It’s made worse because you can’t be sure that it is happening.  Thinking back, I believe that this has happened to me before, but as I wasn’t expecting it, I dismissed it as glitches in twitter.  I can do so no longer.  It was really, really, conspicuous this time.  Twitter is silently manipulating which opinions are displayed on its server.

Twitter is a nasty company.  It pioneered the trick of “shadow-banning” people; allowing them to post but ensuring their tweets were not seen by anyone else.  It’s very hard to protest censorship that you don’t know is happening, which is of course the point.  Now that shadow-banning is known, it probably happens less.  This new nastiness is right in line with their previous approach.

What a world we live in.

Fortunately US Republicans have caught on, and are starting to call for social media firms to be broken up.  Let’s hope this happens soon.

4 thoughts on “My experience of real-time censorship on Twitter

  1. My Twitter account was suspended couple months ago. I didn’t do much there and was surprised but didn’t care. Finally, last week I asked them to specify what action of mine had violated their terms and rules. There was no reply but I my account was fully reactivated.

    There is some agenda being driven by Twitter or they support the agendas of the stronger users; including I suspect getting rid of customers at their power-users behest. A Republican who I mildly disagreed with on economics…so don’t put too much hope of that party to promote freedom of speech.

  2. There have been reports that Twitter has suspended people because (allegedly) a user complained. But on several occasions, the user in question has said that they didn’t complain and didn’t have any problem with what was said; and it seems that the company monitors actually did it, and falsely listed a complaint when it was their own idea.

    Very frustrating. Never had much use for Twitter or Facebook, but they seem to be making themselves useless for anyone.

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