Update November 26, 2016: Be sure to read through to the final outcome and how I was able to remove a shadowban below
Pardon this brief diversion from all things money.
It’s funny. I’ve never considered myself very controversial. Apparently Twitter disagrees. I have my opinions. I speak my mind when appropriate, and hold my tongue as I see fit.
Imagine my surprise when I read about Twitter shadowbanning people without warning or notice, even well known Dilbert creator, Scott Adams.
Imagine my shock when I discovered I’m one of those people!
What is Shadowbanning?
Reddit was the first site I’m aware of to shadowban people, but I’m not here to teach a history lesson on the shadowban.
For Twitter, when you’re shadowbanned, your tweets no longer appear in search results and people aren’t notified when you like, retweet, or mention them. In effect, you disappear.
In the Twitterverse, I’m now an Orwellian unperson.
Not surprising, when you consider the story of Twitter, where like any good Silicon Valley startup story, at least one of the founders gets used up and thrown out. But definitely disturbing, when you consider the power, for good or evil, inherent in any centralized censorship, especially given the history of mass protest enabled by social media like Twitter (that title Twitter and Tear Gas seems fitting under the circumstances).
Do I have to go full Spiderman and remind Twitter that with great power comes great responsibility? Apparently so.
How Do I Check If I Have a Shadowban?
- Sign out of Twitter or open Twitter in a private browser window / tab
- Do a search for tweets from your account, e.g. searchable tweets from enwealthen vs tweets in my profile
- If you see your tweets, you’re not shadowbanned. No tweets? Welcome to the shadowban club! We have jackets!
The insidious part is that when you’re signed in, you have no idea anything is wrong. You just don’t get responses to your tweets.
This is what I see when I’m signed in to Twitter and search for tweets from Enwealthen. See all my useful, informative tweets?
This is what you see when you search for my tweets when I’m signed out or in a private browser window. In a word, crickets.
Shadowban? Really? Why Me?
I’m not sure.
For most of this year I’ve been regularly finding and following people on Twitter who are talking about money – personal finance, debt, financial freedom, early retirement, investing, etc. and every week or two unfollowing people who don’t follow back. What I was not doing is “aggressive follower churn” – following a thousand random people a day and then unfollowing them if they don’t follow back – which is forbidden under Twitter’s ToS. Twitter did require me to add a phone number to my account when I started following more people, but otherwise no suspension, or communications, or indication of any problems on concerns on their part.
I don’t talk politics for the most part, other than how it impacts the economy, which impacts everyone. That said, Democrat, Republican, or Bull Moose – you do something stupid, I just might call you out on it. I’m an independent, but if forced to choose a party, I’d likely go Libertarian. Not that I think they’re right, just slightly less wrong perhaps than everyone else.
In other words, my tweets are fairly benign.
I do read Zerohedge and post links to them from time to time.
I don’t bash or promote Trump or Clinton although I did tweet a complaint when Twitter emailed me directly to promote the Democratic convention, but sent no comparable promotion for the Republican convention. No matter your politics, that’s just not fair.
I do use Revive Old Post to tweet something from my archives once per day.
I’m not posting hate speech or anything requiring lurking under the First Amendment.
I do use IFTTT to post quotes or other evergreen content once a week.
I use Buffer to schedule regular updates with what I’m reading right now, 3 updates per day.
I’m not breaking any Twitter rules I’m aware of.
I don’t get it.
Worse of all, if it’s happening to me, how many other people are shadowbanned and don’t even know it?
How To Remove a Shadowban
Contacting Twitter support doesn’t make a difference. Since they don’t admit to shadowbanning, they don’t have a process for unbanning you.
Please don’t blame me. Twitter’s made me unintentionally rude, and I don’t care for it.
That leaves publicly complaining in whatever forum available to you, like say, your blog, that Twitter has targeted you for unknown reasons; or modifying your behavior and see if Twitter deigns to remove the shadowban; or giving up and leaving Twitter behind, relegated to the dustbin of internet history.
I’ve stopped following or unfollowing anyone. I’ve disabled my Twitter automation from Revive Old Post and IFTTT but am continuing to post my readings via Buffer.
I keep replying to mentions or other social interactions that appear in my Notifications page, but I suspect the people I’m replying to aren’t seeing my messages.
Everything I’ve read says most shadowbans just last 1-2 days. Although it appears there are degrees of shadowban with first offense being ~8 hours, and subsequent offenses result in longer shadowbans. Keep it up and you’re banned for good.
It’s been 5 days for me so far, and counting.
Shadowban update November 22, 2016: I’ve finally been un-banned by Twitter. It only took 46 days. It appears my actual shadowban where my tweets were being blocked from appearing in people’s feeds was only a week or so. However, my tweets were blocked from appearing in search results and hashtags until today.
To get unblocked, I stopped following or unfollowing anyone, and stopped tweeting links to my content or anyone else’s. All my tweets were thanks for follows & retweets, and quotes or other text updates. I did audit all my follows and unfollowed any bots – I found a surprisingly large and very sophisticated botnet that was only obvious when I saw the similar tweets comparing account to account to account. Twitter definitely has their work cut out for them in keeping bots under control. The other interesting data point I discovered in my audit – 2.5% of the people I was following were also shadowbanned, or at least their tweets were blocked from search. A few of the banned were automated, e.g. news bots, but most appeared to be regular Twitter accounts, some of whom are fellow personal finance bloggers.
So if there’s a lesson to be learned here, be careful on Twitter, and check periodically that your tweets aren’t being blocked. There’s probably a business opportunity here for a Twitter monitoring service to alert you when you’re shadowbanned, but Twitter would probably just ban your business…
I’m not sure.
Twitter has violated my trust. I suppose I’ll continue to post to Twitter via Buffer since Buffer makes it so easy to share across all your networks. But I’ll have to switch my focus to Pinterest and Facebook for my social media until Twitter comes to their senses. And even then, may not rejoin Twitter.
Frankly, I’m disappointed in Twitter. It’s their platform, so they can abuse their users however they see fit. Considering how they’re failing – failing to retain users, failing to find a buyer, failing to thrive as a company – I’d expect them to be doing whatever they can to revive their business. Silencing people you disagree with makes no sense. Ban them, sure. But do it to their face, and explain the reasons. This kind of stealth banning is the tactic of a repressive regime depending on silence to survive, and not what I’d expect from a company supposedly built on communication and sharing.
Abuse me once, shame on you. Abuse me twice, shame on me.
Reality check? It’s never wise to build your brand on someone else’s platform. I’m refocusing on building my brand on my own platform with email, comments, and direct communication. I recommend you do the same.
What’s been your experience with social media? Ever been banned, or shadowbanned? Any bets on how long I’ll be too much for Twitter? Comment below and tell me what you think.