What is Shadow Banning and what has Donald Trump got to do with it?

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Shadow Banning? Perhaps, you might not have heard about the term before, but then there is a first time for everything. Let us tell you exactly what it is and why did it receive a response from White House itself.

What is Shadow Banning?

Like any other banning, shadow banning is a familiar concept, where instead of totally banning a specific person from using a social network or forum there is an “invisibility cloak” put over his content, thus others can’t view that.

This can be helpful in that case, where it can seem rude to remove a person. Doing so, others don’t have to view the misappropriate content, and thus don’t even know if the shadow-banned person has posted something. In this way when the shadow banned user feels that the engagement levels with his post are nearly zero, they tend to leave the forum or site by themselves. On the other hand, if you were to ban a person completely, there are chances that they will make a new account and use that. How many accounts can one really ban?

Reddit had been known to use this kind of banning and was its only type of banning until the end of 2015. Other giant sites like Facebook also tend to have a similar approach for pages or people spreading misinformation on the public forum. They do this by simply applying an algorithm which makes their posts engage with fewer people than usual, but only if their posts are not trustworthy.

According to Zack Allen, who is the Director of threat operations at ZeroFox, the purpose of the shadow banning is quite clear: To put an end to trolls and bots. He further stated that “This can be effective in combating bots where ‘bot herders’ who maintain these accounts don’t necessarily know whether or not their bots are actually being seen by other people.”

What has White House got to do with it?

Just this Thursday, the President of United States, Donald Trump accused Twitter of shadow banning the major Republican figures. This allegation might have been because according to a report from Vice News, Twitter wasn’t auto-populating Republicans in its drop-down search box. It might seem like shadow banning to you, but according to Twitter, it was just a bug.

In a blog post on Thursday to clarify the situation, Twitter posted that they do not shadow ban. One can always see the tweets from the account they follow, albeit you might have to go over to the account you follow and read all of them.

According to Twitter’s spokesperson, “We are aware that some accounts are not automatically populated in our search box, and [we’re] shipping a change to address this. The profiles, tweets, and discussions about these accounts do appear when you search for them. To be clear, our behavioral ranking doesn’t make judgments based on political views or the substance of tweets.”

It isn’t the first time that Twitter and other social media websites were accused of something, though it indeed the latest. Lawmakers have accused the social networking giant several times. Thus, two hearings took place about the subject at hand by the House Judiciary Committee. At these hearings, the Big Three (Facebook, Twitter, and Google) were asked if they had been intentionally muting conservative voices.

Not only this but Twitter’s policy director Carlos Monje was asked by Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican if Twitter made use of shadow banning or not. The director replied in negative, and always held this view even during hearings on Capitol Hill.

According to the head of Public Policy Strategy at Twitter, Nick Pickles, “Some critics have described the sum of all of this work as a banning of conservative voices. Let me make clear to the committee today that these claims are unfounded and false.”

Is Twitter really doing shadow banning?

The short answer is No. If they had been doing that you wouldn’t have able to see posts from Republicans named in the Vice News article, which includes Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. It is not necessary that your Twitter accounts shall be automatically populated while being searched for, thus it shouldn’t be linked to shadow banning in any way.

Bugs are common to be found each day, and nobody can stop them. Thus, all this debate has just been because of a bug in the Twitter’s search algorithm. This was explained by the Twitter’s head of product, Kayvon Beykpour in his tweets.

“Our usage of the behavior signals within search was causing this to happen & making search results seem inaccurate,” he tweeted. “We’re making a change today that will improve this.”

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