Twitter Files 2: ‘Secret blacklists’ to limit users and trends; journalists claim


New York: Days after Elon Musk revealed internal communications, pertaining to the censorship of the Hunter Biden story on the social media platform, another tranche of ‘confidential and privileged conversations that exposes the internal workings of Twitter was released on Thursday (December 8, US local time).

The ‘Twitter Files’ (as it is now called) story was initially broken by independent journalist Matt Taibbi. It exposed how the Twitter moderation team justified the censorship of the Hunter Biden story, under the guise of the ‘hacked materials policy,’ by the likes of Vijaya Gadde.

The second part of the ‘Twitter Files’ gave a glimpse into the high-handedness of a ‘select few’ employees at the social media platform, who routinely censored right-wing accounts and non-mainstream narratives with complete disregard for Twitter’s rules.

Weiss, a former New York Times opinion editor who now runs The Free Press, said on Friday the social media platform’s previous management restricted the reach of particular accounts with what it called a “Trends Blacklist” and “Search Blacklist” as well as a “Do Not Amplify” tag.

In a Twitter thread, Weiss said the blacklisted figures included Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford University professor who opposed COVID-19 lockdowns, Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist, and “Libs of TikTok”, an account that reposts and mocks content posted elsewhere by liberals and LGBTQ people.

Weiss, who quoted a number of unnamed Twitter employees to support her claims, included screenshots that appeared to show the interface Twitter used to blacklist certain accounts, including tags denoting their restricted status.

“We control visibility quite a bit. And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit,” Weiss quoted an unnamed Twitter engineer as saying. “And normal people do not know how much we do.”

What’s in Twitter Files 2?
Weiss, who posted the second thread, was formerly with The New York Times’s opinion department. She resigned in 2020, saying she faced “constant bullying by colleagues” for her views.

In her resignation letter, Weiss had alleged that Twitter influenced the editorial judgement at The New York Times. “Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper…”, she wrote.

In her thread Friday, she claimed that teams of Twitter employees “build blacklists, prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics — all in secret, without informing users”.

Apart from the Stanford professor, she cited other examples of alleged censorship such as the case of American Right-wing talk show host Dan Bongino, whose account was apparently labelled as “Search Blacklist”. Meanwhile, the account of another American conservative activist, Charlie Kirk, was allegedly set to “Do Not Amplify”.

On online platforms, the practice of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content in a way that’s not readily apparent to them is known as ‘shadow banning’.

According to Weiss, several high-level former Twitter employees have denied that the platform carries out shadow banning, especially over politics. However, she claimed that “multiple high-level sources” have told her that the practice — apparently called “visibility filtering” by Twitter executives and employees — does indeed exist.

She also claimed that decisions around limiting reach were taken by a body called the “Strategic Response Team – Global Escalation Team or SRT-GET” and that they often handled “200 cases a day”.

Weiss further alleged that beyond the SRT-GET, there was a secret group — “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support known as SIP-PES.” This group, which allegedly decided on limiting user reach for accounts with high follower counts, included a host of executives who were fired by Musk after his takeover.

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