After months of rumored Twitter "shadowbans" on conservative accounts were finally confirmed by VICE and other publications, the GOP is taking action ahead of midterms.
Axios reports that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a letter Thursday to Greg Walden, the chairman of a powerful House committee, to ask that he publicly grill Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey over recent allegations that the platform limits the reach of some conservative accounts.
“Any solution to this problem must start with accountability from companies like Twitter, whose platforms have enormous potential to impact the national conversation — and unfortunately, enormous potential for abuse,” McCarthy said in the letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden.
“In particular, I would like to request a hearing with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey so that the American people can learn more about the filtering and censorship practices on his platform.”
Full Letter below:
McCarthy, who has worked on tech issues for years, has pressured social media companies over the way they treat conservatives in recent months. McCarthy and other Republican leaders met with Facebook staffers in June over their concerns, and as recently as last month McCarthy was running ads on Facebook inviting supporters to join him “and President Trump in defending our conservative voice against social media censoring," according to the platform's public database of political ads.
This action follows Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Twitter after he discovered that his account was being 'shadowbanned' - the practice of excluding or reducing the visibility of one's tweets from normal circulation on the platform.
BREAKING: @Twitter deliberately targeting @RepMarkMeadows, @Jim_Jordan, @DevinNunes, & me to be #Shadowbanned.— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) July 25, 2018
Is it only a coincidence that these allegations would arise the week following my heated exchange with Twitter Executives before the Judiciary Committee??
Then last Friday, Twitter issued a strange explanation to "set the record straight," in response to growing outrage over the practice of "shadow banning" conservatives, as confirmed last week by the liberal publication VICE and promptly tweeted about by President Trump, where they explicitly state that they do not engage in the practice - except then they describe how they do exactly that.
"People are asking us if we shadow ban. We do not. But let’s start with, “what is shadow banning?”
The best definition we found is this: deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster." -Twitter
Then, Twitter reiterates they don't shadow ban - with the caveat in parentheses that you may need to go directly to the timeline of some users in order to see their tweets. (tee hee!)
"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." -Twitter
In other words, Twitter says they don't shadow ban - it's just that tweets from people you follow may never appear unless you click directly into their timeline.
The problem Jack Dorsey is going to have if and when he faces his grilling is, as we detailed previously, Twitter's own employees admitted to the practice in a January undercover exposé, after investigative journalists with Project Veritas went undercover in San Francisco, Twitter's hometown.
In one clip, a former Twitter software engineer who explains how/why Twitter "shadow bans" certain users:
Abhinav Vadrevu: "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 but 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. I don't know if Twitter does this anymore."
Then there was 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.”
In the full video, Twitter Content Review Agent Mo Nora explains that Twitter doesn't have an official written policy that targets conservative speech, 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.”
Meanwhile, Pranay Singh reveals again just how creepy Twitter can be by digging into your profile and conversation history to determine whether or not you're a "redneck" and therefore worthy of being banned:
“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.”