President Trump is again complaining about what he perceives to be anti-conservative bias in the media (despite the fact that Fox News is an entire channel that essentially functions as pro-Trump state television). Echoing a claim some conservatives have been making for years, on July 26 Trump tweeted a claim, without evidence, that Twitter is “shadowbanning” members of the GOP:
Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
What does shadowbanned mean?
The term “shadow-banned” means that on a social-media network, a user’s posts are visible only to themselves. It’s not an actual ban, hence use of the word “shadow.”
“Shadow banning is when you are algorithmically being kind of shut down, and that often has to do with, particularly, the content that you are posting,” Monica Stephens, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, told the New York Times. “Maybe it doesn’t violate the terms of service, but they make it so other people can’t see that content.”
The concept behind shadowbanning is to prevent companies from having to play Whack-a-Mole with users who repeatedly post offensive content: If an abusive user doesn’t know they’re banned, they won’t just make a new account and continue their bad behavior.
Are Republicans being shadowbanned?
In the word of the New York Times: No. Twitter flatly denied the practice. “As we have said before, we do not ‘shadowban,'” the company said.
The controversy flared because of a Vice article in late July, which claimed that some Republicans were being shadowbanned because their names didn’t surface as auto-populated suggestions when searched on Twitter. This inspired Trump’s tweet.
Both the article and Trump’s response confused the issue, because that’s not what shadowbanning means — it’s a full invisibility cloak the user doesn’t know he or she is wearing. In the case of conservatives cited in the Vice article, their accounts were visible in full search results, just not in the more convenient drop-down menu.
Am I shadowbanned?
If you think you might be shadowbanned, how can you know for sure? There are certain sites and tools online that claim to tell you if you’ve been shadowbanned, but there’s no evidence that they’re accurate. Instead, you can perform a simple test in your own head: Ask, am I being a jerk who’s violating this platform’s terms of service? If the answer’s no, you should have nothing to worry about.