Shortly after Elon Musk took over at Twitter, he released internal company documents and conversations from the social media giant that took place before his tenure.
These documents have been dubbed the “Twitter files”, and among the revelations that have emerged is alleged evidence of “shadow banning” on the site.
The term refers to the alleged use of algorithms to “de-amplify” tweets so that they only reach a limited audience.
Journalists given exclusive access to the leaked data include former New York Times and Rolling Stone reporters.
One of these reporters shared screenshots of what was said to be a moderation interface that allowed Twitter employees to tag accounts with labels such as “trends blacklist” or “search blacklist”. It is unclear exactly how these tags work, but users have said it seems likely that they limit circulation of tweets.
A ‘trends blacklist’
It has emerged that a prominent critic of Covid lockdowns, Dr Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, was placed on a “trends blacklist” to stop his tweets gaining traction.
The reporters also said they found that Twitter’s top content moderators were regularly meeting federal government agencies during the 2020 presidential campaign, whom they considered “partners” in flagging election misinformation for removal.
Social media company moderators can delete posts that are put online if they believe they don’t comply with terms of service.
The data leak also gave some insight into the decision to prevent sharing of a New York Post story about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, which was published in the critical run up to the 2020 election.
The paper alleged the device contained evidence of then presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son’s questionable business dealings, including claims that the now president met one of his son’s Ukrainian associates.
At the time, Twitter blocked users from sharing links to the article, saying it had concerns over misinformation and a report based on possibly hacked materials. It later changed its guidelines and the then chief executive Jack Dorsey described the company’s actions as “unacceptable”.
The Twitter files leak reportedly shows that while Twitter justified this with its policy against hacked materials, there was a lack of consensus among senior executives about whether there was enough reason to censor.
‘There is no smoking gun’
Some commentators have claimed that the Twitter files prove that pressure from the Biden administration was among factors in the decision to block the story.
Both Joe Biden and Hunter Biden have always denied any wrongdoing over the Ukraine affair.
Others in the US have been dismissive of the leak, saying there is no smoking gun and arguing that Twitter had not hidden that it filtered how far some accounts and tweets were promoted.
This meaning is disputed, with others saying the company had been open about “visibility filtering”.
But such explanations haven’t stopped some American journalists criticising the social media company for “secretive” ways of operating, and some alleging the files are evidence of collusion between tech companies, the Left and a “deep state” conspiracy to silence those on the Right.
Responding to the coverage, Mr Musk said: “Rather than admit they lied to the public, they’re trying to pretend this is a nothingburger,” he said. “Shame on them.”
Twitter did not respond to questions.
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