Secret shadow-banning and the Twitter blacklist explained

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There is no doubt that something isn’t right when a twenty-something geek working for any of the Big Tech social media companies has the power to secretly make an American invisible to others on the platform. 

Now with Elon Musk releasing internal evidence of a number of conservative voices being deliberately silenced coming to light, it only builds further distrust of big tech’s unfair reach into censoring while hiding behind their algorithm’s mysterious ways of prioritizing content. 

Social media platforms each claim their proprietary algorithm is the secret sauce if revealed to others, would undermine their competitive value in the market. Big Tech hides behind the mystery of its algorithm, seldom ever offering any true insight as to how it decides who gets to be seen by others and who ends up silenced at the direct keystroke of a tech employee hiding behind a screen.

While Musk is promising to reveal when a Twitter account is shadow-banned, it is causing many to wonder who might have been censored over the past few years. 

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“Shadow banning” is blocking or partially blocking someone’s posts and comments online without notifying the party being silenced. 
(Kurt Knutsson)

What is shadow-banning?

“Shadow-banning” is blocking or partially blocking someone’s posts and comments online without notifying the party of being silenced. When you are shadow-banned, you likely never learn about it until someone who normally would engage in your posts reports to you that they are no longer receiving anything about you. 

Shadow-banning originally started back in the ’90s when popular electronic bulletin boards found it necessary to quiet the words of harmful voices on their platforms. Often times it was a repeat offending spammer acting disruptive or harmful to others by overwhelming the system with nonsense or a giant quantity of messages meant to drown out the voices of everyone else. 

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Today, every social media company practices censoring voices. Silencing voices online may have started with altruistic reasons, which today has expanded into downright censorship of everyday Americans simply expressing contradictory or unpopular views. Freedom of speech has turned into freedom to squelch as there are few regulations preventing big tech from behaving like a big bully blocking whomever they chose for any reason.   

Today, every social media company practices censoring voices.

Today, every social media company practices censoring voices.
(Getty Images)

Code words of shadow-banning

The practice of shadow-banning goes by several words designed to sound mechanically innocuous.  When you read any of these below, it is simply another way of dialing down freedom of speech. 

  • De-amplifying
  • Censoring
  • Ghost-banning
  • De-boosting
  • Hell-banning
  • Blocking
  • Down ranking
  • Soft banning
  • Blacklisting

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How to find out if you are shadow-banned on Twitter

  1. Logout of your Twitter account
  2. Launch a private web browser usually by clicking “file,” then “new incognito browser,” “new private window,” or similar
  3. Go to https://twitter.com/explore to open a search page on Twitter
  4. Type “from:username” in the search field.  For example, I would put “from:cyberguy” for mine
  5. If the results contain few or none of your posts and replies, then you are being shadow-banned. If you see results you’re your Twitter name including your replies then you are likely not being shadow -anned
A man uses a smartphone in New York City, in this picture taken Nov. 6, 2013.

A man uses a smartphone in New York City, in this picture taken Nov. 6, 2013.
(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

In addition to these easy steps above, there are websites getting attention for their claim to quickly test whether you’ve been shadow-banned on Twitter. Here are the results below when I submitted my Twitter account name @CyberGuy to one such site.

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