Twitter executives responded last week to allegations that they were “shadow banning” high-profile conservative politicians and leaders. Vice News reported that the names of multiple Republican lawmakers did not show up in automatically populated results in the drop-down menu.
When VICE News released the original report, users could not find several Republican congressmen, the Republican party chair, or Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesperson in the drop-down menu. They could be found using the full search option, but most users take advantage of the more convenient menu at the top of the page.
President Trump weighed in on the controversy, tweeting “Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.”
Twitter addressed the accusations in a post by Kayvon Beykpour, the company’s product leader. He defined shadow banning as “deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster.” He said Twitter does not do this in general and “certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
He went on to explain that they discovered an issue last week related to the search box. He said “hundreds of thousands” of accounts were not showing up in the box even when you typed in their names.
He also dealt with the accusations that this adversely affected Republican lawmakers more than Democratic lawmakers. He said the issue had to do with how other people interacted with these accounts. “There are communities that try to boost each other’s presence on the platform through coordinated engagement. We believe these types of actors engaged with the representatives’ accounts– the impact of this coordinated behavior, in combination with our implementation of search auto-suggestions, caused the representatives’ accounts to not show up in auto-suggestions.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey used a series of tweets to ruminate about the issue and how Twitter is addressing it without making it easier for users with nefarious motives to abuse the platform. He said, “We’d love to open up how our ranking algorithms make decisions. We’re thinking about how to do that, without informing bad-faith actors how to manipulate our systems to artificially amplify a tweet’s reach into places like replies, trends and search. Might be a way to earn trust.” Then, he said, “We want a vibrant and healthy public conversation inclusive of all perspectives, and one that’s immediately relevant and valuable. We’re always listening to the conversation around this, and we commit to participating more fully in it. It’s important to us we get this right.”
Twitter’s stock price dropped from 42.90 to 32.54 between Thursday afternoon and 11:00 AM Monday.