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January 2021 | by Megan Holcombe
Here’s the definition.
To break that down even more, a shadow ban is the latest way big tech uses tricky algorithms to hide content from your timeline, without you or the original poster ever noticing.
Along with outright banning, shadow banning is one of the fastest growing threats to your Twitter account in 2020, but the details of how or why it happens are a mystery to most users.
The first sign that an account may be a victim of this stealth censorship is that these accounts fail to appear in the search bar – even if you’ve typed the entire account name. Here’s an example of an account that was recently blocked:
We’ve also seen content for this account blocked in retweets, with “this tweet is unavailable” appearing in lieu of the real content.
Social media giants claim their methods for targeting are meant to reduce the flow of “fake news” and abusive content. Unfortunately, it seems that fake news and abusive content are still rampant on the platforms, while a large number of accounts have faced the mysterious ban, seemingly without reason.
And we’re not just talking bots. In 2018, big name conservatives including Congressmen Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Mark Meadows, Republican Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and conservative commentators Diamond and Silk were all shadow banned.
(As you can see, these names also failed to appear in the search bar.)
But it’s not only conservatives facing a block. Other people affected by shadow banning include Democrats, transgender activists, Black Lives Matter activists, professional wrestlers, socialists, and even users that participated in prolific anti-ISIS campaigns.
As Twitter tries to clean up discourse on its site, it’s relying on artificial, machine-run algorithms to moderate. An unnamed amount of “triggers” exist in the system that target all types of people and eliminate them – without notice – in the blink of an eye.
While Silicon Valley holds tight to the notion that these blocks are not political, there’s no doubt the issue continues to divide across partisan lines as conservative users feel unfairly targeted by the social media giant.
This is only the beginning of what will surely be a hard-fought battle for fair media coverage leading up to the next election and only underlines the value of organic community building.
With the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, many political campaigns are investing even more time and money to effective digital campaigns. Wisely so.
Unfortunately, the growing issue of tech censorship has become a major obstacle for many conservative organizations.
In a huge move to counter “hate speech,” Reddit targeted Trump supporters at /r/the_donald for deletion after months of controversy surrounding moderator intervention in the conservative group.
Similarly, Google has recently gone after conservative publications and made them completely ineligible for their ad services. On Twitter and Facebook, moderators continue to move the goalposts on what qualifies a page or group for removal.
These tech giants have a major impact on how conservative messaging is received – or not received. But perhaps the most effective way campaigns are censored is not an outright ban or removal, but the more subtle trick of shadow banning. More than any ban, the suspicion of playing against a stacked deck is driving a lot of accounts to new online platforms, like Parler.
With the increasingly mysterious algorithms shadow banning new accounts every day, you need to make sure your followers are more dedicated than the constantly shifting policies of Silicon Valley, and relying on social media alone to stay in touch is not enough in this age. Having supporters dedicated enough to go to your feed directly when your tweets don’t show up in their timelines is helpful to keeping your message alive beyond the ban.
Even better? Make sure you have the emails of all of your followers, let them know you’re shadow banned, and show them how to set up alerts for your account.
It’s unclear how shadow banning will evolve in the days to come, or how this censoring will affect the 2020 election cycle. What is clear is that every campaign can’t just rely on Twitter. We must be more vigilant than ever to effectively share our messages with an omni-channel strategy across ALL platforms.
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