Twitter Censorship And The Crapification Path Of Social Media – MoonOfAlabama 2/10/23


On January 6 I wrote about the Twitter files:

Twitter Files Show How The Deep State Conquered Social Media

Part of the quoted reporting by Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss and others was about Twitter censorship:

Twitter Files Part 2, by @BariWeiss, December 8, 2022


Bari Weiss gives a long-awaited answer to the question, “Was Twitter shadow-banning people?” It did, only the company calls it “visibility filtering.” Twitter also had a separate, higher council called SIP-PES that decided cases for high-visibility, controversial accounts.

Key revelations: Twitter had a huge toolbox for controlling the visibility of any user, including a “Search Blacklist” (for Dan Bongino), a “Trends Blacklist” for Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, and a “Do Not Amplify” setting for conservative activist Charlie Kirk. Weiss quotes a Twitter employee: “Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool.” With help from @abigailshrier, @shellenbergermd, @nelliebowles, and @isaacgrafstein.

This was of special interest to me as my account, @MoonofA, was throttled:

Until late 2021 my Twitter account @MoonofA, which I mostly use to promote my writings here, was not allowed to grow beyond 19,500 followers. There were also signs that tweets by me were not shown to users who were following me. After my account was released from the growth prison it rapidly grew to 47,500 followers in the fall of 2022. It then again went into growth prison for no discernible reason and without me getting any notice of it. Now anytime my follower count increases by 100 or so it will automatically be slashed back to 47,450 followers. There are also again signs that tweets from my account are again ‘shadowbanned’.

Someone at Twitter must have read the above. One or two days after I published the piece my account was again allowed to grow. It has since gained more than 2,500 new followers for a total of more than 50,000.

I do not know though to what degree I am still shadow banned or not.

The original idea of Twitter was that you will see the tweets and retweets by those people you follow (and preferable only those) in your timeline. Over time that has been perverted again and again. Tweets from some accounts were suppressed by ‘visibility filtering’, i.e not show in their followers timelines. Tweets of people one did not follow were inserted into one’s stream. (Using in a browser seems to largely avoid the later issue.)

Both of those issues are typical for social media. Services like Facebook and Twitter get first build so that they are easy to use. To grow they must have features that people like and find useful. The first phase of optimization of a service is done for that purpose.

When the social media service has acquired a sufficient number of regular users, and ‘eyeballs’ that can be monetized, the optimization aim changes. Most things done after that are no longer user orientated but to maximize the income of the service via advertisements or sales. When money is in the game fraud via automated accounts and other manipulations will inevitably follow.

Any social media service will also have some power over its users by being able to push some content and withhold other. Power attracts governments and politicians who will want to manipulate it for their purposes. The introduction of censorship follows. Thus the FBI gets to decide which accounts get throttled or shadow banned.

Everything that follows after the first phase of optimizing the user experience will inevitably crappify a service. Soon this will impede growth. Then follows the decline of user numbers. AOL, MySpace and Facebook are primary examples for this process.

Twitter was well on its way to the point of decline. If Elon Musk wants to make it profitable he will have to think hard on how to achieve that.

My advice would be to optimize for user experience only and to concentrate on the core features. This must be done in carefully thought out tiny steps. Put a hard limit on the influence of advertisement sales and government influence. (Think of sales as an (necessary?) add-on, not as a core service.) Neither should be allowed to influence the users’ experience.