Lisa’s Editorial Corner: What Does It Feel Like To Be A Ghost a.k.a. A Few Thoughts On Being #Shadowbanned


Last week, on Twitter, I was shadowbanned.

In my case, it only lasted three days.  Since that experience, I’ve talked to several people who have been shadowbanned on Twitter for far longer.  I’ve also discovered that there are a lot of people who think that they have been shadowbanned but who aren’t sure.  Since I’ve had a lot of people ask me a lot of questions about the experience, I’ve decided to answer all of them here.

What Is Shadowbanning?

For the longest time, Twitter’s official position was that shadowbanning was a myth.  Only recently has Twitter admitted to putting “restrictions” on certain users.  As far as I know, Twitter has never made official use of the term “shadowban.”

However, that’s exactly what these “restrictions” are.

Basically, being shadowbanned means that you’ve been secretly restricted on twitter.  A lot of people on Twitter are shadowbanned but they don’t even realize it.  Unlike when an account is suspended, Twitter does not send a message to let you know that you’ve been shadowbanned.  Nor will Twitter let you know when your shadowban has been lifted.  These are things that you have to discover for yourself.

What Happens When You’re Shadowbanned?

I was shadowbanned for three days and I can only tell you about my own experience.  During the first 24 hours of being shadowbanned, I could not reply to anyone.  I could send out tweets to people but they wouldn’t show up in anyone’s notifications.  Therefore, I had to hope that, when I tweeted people, they would see my tweet on the main timeline.  Anyone who follows more than a 1,000 people can tell you just how unlikely that would be.

Even after I regained the ability to reply to people, my name and tweets still didn’t show up in twitter searches.  Nor did they appear under any hashtags.  This lasted for three days.  For me, as a film blogger, this was a huge issue.  A good deal of the traffic on this site comes from people going on twitter and searching for film reviews.  As well, since 2009, I’ve been a prolific live tweeter.  Not only do I enjoy live tweeting films and TV show but also it’s also helped to bring attention to both this site and several other sites that I write for.

How Did You Know That You Were Shadowbanned?

I found out through pure chance.  Every Saturday, I host #LateNightMovie in the SyFyDesigns.com chatroom.  Every Saturday, two hours before the movie, I tweet out the link to the members of the Late Night Movie Gang.  On October 7th, when I tweeted out the links, I had already been shadowbanned but I didn’t know it.  An hour after sending out the links, I received a tweet from my friend, Steve.

Of course, neither Steve nor Janeen were able to read my reply because it never showed up in their notifications.

Suspecting that my replies were not showing up, I then sent a tweet to Jeff while he was standing right next to me and looking down at his phone.

The tweet did not show up in his notifications.

Jeff then proceeded to do a twitter search for my tweets, under his account.  None of them showed up.  When he looked up my profile, he got a message warning him that my profile might contain “sensitive material.”

(When you’re shadowbanned, your tweets will only show up if you do a search under your account.  The only way to know for sure is to either log out of twitter and do a search or have someone you know do a search under their account.)

So, When Twitter Shadowbans You, They Go Out Of Their Way To Keep You From Knowing That You’ve Been Shadowbanned?  That Sounds Pretty Freaking Cowardly.

No shit.

What Did You Do To Get Shadowbanned?

I have no idea.

This is why shadowbanning is so frustrating.  As opposed to a suspension, in which case you’re told why your account has been suspended and what you can do to prevent your account from getting suspended a second time, a shadowban comes with no warning or explanation.

My suspicion is this: Because I’m a prolific reviewer, I post a lot of links on Twitter.  My guess is that the Twitter Algorithm decided that I had posted too many links so it decided to shadowban me as a “warning.”  I’ve also read that some people have been shadowbanned after posting too many tweets under one hashtag.  It’s meant to combat “hashtag abuse,” which is when bots will post a hundred spam tweets under one hashtag.  I’m all for combatting bots but all shadowbanning is doing is making it more difficult to host a good live tweet.

If The People Who Ran Twitter Actually Understood What People Use It For, Why Would They Ruin Live Tweeting With Random Shadowbans?

For the most part, the people who run Twitter have nothing to do with handing down a shadowban.  That’s all handled by the Twitter Algorithm.

What Is This Twitter Algorithm That People Keep Mentioning?

One of the biggest misconceptions that users seem to have about twitter is this belief that there’s a group of people reading and judging every single tweet.  With the amount of people who use twitter every single day, that’s just not possible.  For the most part, Twitter is an automated service and suspensions and shadowbans are, with a few possible exceptions, automated as well.

The Twitter Algorithm does not take into consideration how long you’ve been a member of twitter or the content of what you’re tweeting.  Instead, it is simply designed to react to certain triggers — like tweeting a certain amount of links or using a hashtag a certain amount of times.  Unfortunately, no where is it specifically explained how many links are too many or how many times you can use a hashtag before the Algorithm decides that you need to be put on time out.

In short, Shadowbanning is a victory of automation over humanity.  And, since it’s an algorithm, it doesn’t have to worry about whether or not it’s inconvenienced you or treated you unfairly.

But You Were Only Shadowbanned For Three Days.  This Seems Rather Dramatic For Just Three Days…

Yeah, kiss my ass.

But Seriously…

Yes, it was only three days.  However, if I get shadowbanned again, it’ll be five days.  I’ve spoken to people who have been shadowbanned for months on twitter.  Several of them eventually had to create a new account and start over again from scratch.

For me, it comes down to this.  I was only shadowbanned for three days but I still don’t know why I was shadowbanned and, as a result, I don’t know what I should specifically do to prevent it from happening again.  Every time I send out a link to a review that I’ve written, I now find myself wondering if my tweets are about to once again vanish from twitter search.  As much as I love live tweeting Lifetime and SyFy films, I will now spend all of my time on twitter looking over my shoulder and wondering if the Algorithm is about to get me again.

What Can You Do If You’re Shadowbanned?

Nothing.

Oh Come On…

Okay, there are things you can do.  You can still send out DMs, which is what I did to let people know that I was shadowbanned.  I was shadowbanned on Saturday.  By Sunday afternoon, over a hundred people had sent tweets to @twitter and @twittersupport, letting them know that I was not a spammer:

By the end of the day, people were once again able to read my replies, though my name and tweets still didn’t show up in any searches.  Did all the tweets make a difference?  I don’t know but it was still a wonderful feeling to see the amount of support that I received.

I also reached out to twitter support myself.  Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever had to use it can tell you, the Twitter Help Center is a mess and deliberately useless.  They literally have a form for everything, except for what you actually need.  You can file an appeal if you feel that you have been unfairly or incorrectly suspended.  However, you cannot file an appeal if you’ve been shadowbanned.

(Of course, Twitter’s official position is that shadowbanning doesn’t happen.)

I sent Twitter Support an email every day that I was suspended.  I also tweeted @TwitterSupport several times.  I have yet to hear back from Support or receive any sort of acknowledgement that my complaints were ever received.

I’ve Heard That You Can Get A Shadowban Lifted By Offering To Spend Money on Twitter Ads…

I’ve heard that, too.  I don’t know if it’s true or not but it wouldn’t surprise me.  Money talks.

That said, I’m not going to spend money when I haven’t done anything wrong.

Why Is It Easier To Get Shadowbanned For Tweeting Too Much Under A Hashtag Than For Tweeting Out Hate Speech?

That’s a good question.  When, after two days, I was still not showing up in any search results, Jeff did an experiment.  He did a twitter search for Richard Spencer, the infamous alt-right Nazi.  Spencer and his tweets showed right up.

I mean, imagine that.  My tweets — which, for the most part, deal with movies and cats — were hidden.  But Spencer’s tweets were right there for the world to see.

So, You Support Censoring The People You Disagree With?

Actually, I don’t.  I think that banning racists on twitter would be a mistake because banning them would not make them any less racist.  It was just make it more difficult to spot and expose them.  If twitter banned Richard Spencer tomorrow, it wouldn’t make him any less dangerous.  Instead, it would make him a martyr to the idiots who follow him.  Sometimes, it’s best to let people speak and expose themselves for being who they truly are.

(If you need evidence of this, I suggest checking out the 1957 film, A Face In The Crowd.)

So, no, I don’t support censorship.  But I do support fairness.  Because right now, it’s apparently easier to get shadowbanned for live tweeting a TV show than for promoting hate.

Right now, twitter has plenty of rules but they’re randomly and arbitrarily enforced.  My personal solution would be to have less rules but that’s not going to happen.  We live in authoritarian society.  Those who aren’t getting off on enforcing the rules secretly crave someone to tell them what to do.  (The Twitter Algorithm is itself the latest attempt to control people without having to actually deal with them as individuals.)  Since the rules aren’t going away, twitter needs to actually figure out how to enforce them without unfairly penalizing people like me.

Again, What Can I Do If I’m Shadowbanned?

My advice: go outside and enjoy the sunshine for three days.  If your ban isn’t lifted after three days, go outside and enjoy the sunshine for two more days.  If the ban isn’t lifted after five days, you’re in trouble.

Sadly, just as Twitter refuses to provide a reason for a shadowban, it also refuses to provide information on how to get them lifted.  As I mentioned earlier, several people, after being shadowbanned for months (even over a year in a few cases) have resorted to creating new accounts but that, in itself, is a pain.  I have close to 10,000 followers right now.  If I ever had to start a new account, I’d have to start from scratch.  I’m sure many of my followers would follow me over but that’s assuming they knew I had created a new account.

Hopefully, Twitter will get its head out of its ass and figure out that punishing innocent users for arbitrary reasons is bad for business.  Otherwise, a few years from now, Twitter might be as relevant as MySpace.

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One response to “Lisa’s Editorial Corner: What Does It Feel Like To Be A Ghost a.k.a. A Few Thoughts On Being #Shadowbanned

  1. That is just wild, and I’m sorry it happened. Also glad to hear it was taken care of. Twitter Support is rarely helpful with getting back to individuals (or so I’ve seen with others). “Sensitive Material”? You write about movies. I’ve seen a few Twitter handles that post spam and/or offensive material without any kind of twitter intervention. One would think that will all of the spammers out there, we’d hear more about it. Hope this article reaches the Twitter Powers that be and changes things.

    Liked by 2 people

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