Twitter Engineers to ‘Ban a Way of Talking’ Through ‘Shadow Banning,’ Algorithms to Censor Opposing Political Opinions
In the latest undercover Project Veritas video investigation, current and former Twitter employees are on camera explaining steps the social media giant is taking to censor political content that they don’t like.
This video release follows the first undercover Twitter exposé Project Veritas released on January 10th which showed Twitter Senior Network Security Engineer Clay Haynes saying that Twitter is “more than happy to help the Department of Justice with their little [President Donald Trump] investigation.” Twitter responded to the video with a statement shortly after that release, stating “the individual depicted in this video was speaking in a personal capacity and does not represent of speak for Twitter.” The video released by Project Veritas today features eight employees, and a Project Veritas spokesman said there are more videos featuring additional employees coming.
On January 3rd 2018 at a San Francisco restaurant, Abhinov Vadrevu, a former Twitter Software Engineer explains a strategy, called “shadow banning,” that to his knowledge, Twitter has employed:
One strategy is to shadow ban so you have ultimate control. The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and no one sees their content. So they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it.
Twitter is in the process of automating censorship and banning, says Twitter Software Engineer Steven Pierre on December 8th of 2017:
Every single conversation is going to be rated by a machine and the machine is going to say whether or not it’s a positive thing or a negative thing. And whether it’s positive or negative doesn’t (inaudible), it’s more like if somebody’s being aggressive or not. Right? Somebody’s just cursing at somebody, whatever, whatever. They may have point, but it will just vanish… It’s not going to ban the mindset, it’s going to ban, like, a way of talking.
Olinda Hassan, a Policy Manager for Twitter’s Trust and Safety team explains on December 15th, 2017 at a Twitter holiday party that the development of a system of “down ranking” “shitty people” is in the works:
Yeah. That’s something we’re working on. It’s something we’re working on. We’re trying to get the shitty people to not show up. It’s a product thing we’re working on right now.
Former Twitter Engineer Conrado Miranda confirms on December 1st, 2017 that tools are already in place to censor pro-Trump or conservative content on the platform. When asked whether or not these capabilities exist, Miranda says, “that’s a thing.”
In a conversation with former Twitter Content Review Agent Mo Norai on May 16th, 2017, we learned that in the past Twitter would manually ban or censor Pro-Trump or conservative content. When asked about the process of banning accounts, Norai said, “On stuff like that it was more discretion on your view point, I guess how you felt about a particular matter…”
When asked to clarify if that process was automated Norai confirmed that it was not:
Yeah, if they said this is: ‘Pro-Trump’ I don’t want it because it offends me, this, that. And I say I banned this whole thing, and it goes over here and they are like, ‘Oh you know what? I don’t like it too. You know what? Mo’s right, let’s go, let’s carry on, what’s next?'
Norai also revealed that more left-leaning content would go through their selection process with less political scrutiny, “It would come through checked and then I would be like ‘Oh you know what? This is okay. Let it go.’”
Norai explains that this selection process wasn’t exactly Twitter policy, but rather they were following unwritten rules from the top:
A lot of unwritten rules, and being that we’re in San Francisco, we’re in California, very liberal, a very blue state. You had to be… I mean as a company you can’t really say it because it would make you look bad, but behind closed doors are lots of rules.
There was, I would say… Twitter was probably about 90% Anti-Trump, maybe 99% Anti-Trump.
At a San Francisco bar on January 5th, Pranay Singh details how the shadow-banning algorithms targeting right-leaning are engineered:
“Yeah you look for Trump, or America, and you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck. Then you look and parse all the messages, all the pictures, and then you look for stuff that matches that stuff.”
When asked if the majority of the algorithms are targeted against conservative or liberal users of Twitter, Singh said, “I would say majority of it are for Republicans.”
Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe believes the power over speech Silicon Valley tech giants has is unprecedented and dangerous:
What kind of world do we live in where computer engineers are the gatekeepers of the ‘way people talk?’ This investigation brings forth information of profound public importance that educates people about how free they really are to express their views online.
Project Veritas plans to release more undercover video from within Twitter in the coming days.