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Twitter ‘Shadow Banning’ Prominent Republicans

RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting at the Washington Hilton in Washington, February 1, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Algorithms employed by Twitter to limit the reach of hateful content are preventing the accounts of prominent Republicans, such as RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, from appearing in search results.

The phenomenon known as “shadow banning” has affected several conservative Republican lawmakers, including Representatives Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Matt Gaetz, as well as Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesman Andrew Surabian. It has not extended to their counterparts on the left, whose accounts continue to auto-populate in Twitter search results.

When contacted for comment, a Twitter spokesman told Vice that the shadow bans were the result of algorithms that analyze “account behavior” in order to reduce the visibility of accounts that routinely spew hateful and bigoted content.

The stated goal of the shadow-banning algorithms, according to a May 15 blog post, is to elevate the visibility of accounts that are “contributing to the healthy conversation” in searches and conversation.

“We are aware that some accounts are not automatically populating in our search box and shipping a change to address this,” the spokesman told Vice.

During two Capitol Hill hearings conducted in recent months, Republican lawmakers have argued that the content-filtering systems employed by Facebook and Twitter to elevate the discourse on their platforms have disproportionately silenced conservative voices.

A spokesman for Representative Gaetz suggested the shadow ban may be related to the lawmakers’ aggressive questioning of Twitter executives in a hearing last week. During the hearing, Gaetz argued that platforms like Twitter, which claim to be “neutral publishers” under federal law, should not privilege certain forms of content over others.

“It is curious that these allegations would arise the week following Congressman Gaetz’s heated exchange with Twitter senior executives before the House Judiciary Committee,” the spokesman for Gaetz told Vice.

McDaniel, whose counterpart, DNC chair Tom Perez, has not been affected by shadow banning, demanded an explanation in a statement provided to Vice.

“The notion that social media companies would suppress certain political points of view should concern every American,” McDaniel said. “Twitter owes the public answers to what’s really going on.”

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

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