TL;DR: “How my tweets performed before having my account restricted by @jack, compared with today,” the popular and anonymous Twitter account @Bitcoin tweeted. “I had 300k fewer followers at that time, too,” the anonymous handle noted, showing a significant drop in engagement. The rumored practice is known as shadow banning. Social media platforms lessen an account’s reach to followers without the bother of having to inform users or issue an outright account ban. It’s a way to muzzle those found to be especially problematic. Twitter has denied shadow banning accounts.
Bitcoin Twitter Account Claims Shadow Ban
“Any journalists want to write about how @jack is restricting accounts that are critical of one of his portfolio companies?” @Bitcoin asked. An accompanying screenshot shows a side-by-side comparison of very similar posts a year apart. Payments processing company BitPay, which allows for using its service with cryptocurrencies bitcoin core (BTC) and bitcoin cash (BCH), is featured, and the comparative transaction costs between BTC and BCH are highlighted.
On 10 March of last year, @Bitcoin asked followers to lobby online gaming service Steam to “re-enable Bitcoin payments now that BitPay invoices support BCH by default,” noting the significant difference in relative fees (BTC was more expensive). Slightly more than a year later, 22 March 2019, @Bitcoin made nearly the exact same appeal, stressing to Steam again, “The reasons you cited for disabling Bitcoin payments last year are no longer valid,” and tagged relevant accounts.
The posts’ engagement numbers are dramatic. From left to right, a Twitter post lists on a single line totals for Comments, Retweets, Likes. Last year, @Bitcoin’s numbers for the Steam appeal were 168, 711, 877, respectively. Just days ago, that same basic tweet earned 18, 54, 141. It very well could be, of course, the crypto bear market has simply taken its toll. Less folks are perhaps interested in that particular tweet’s content.
@jack’s Portfolio Companies
According to the @Bitcoin handle, however, shadow banning of its account began in April of 2018, “but it seems to have gotten worse after upsetting one of @jack’s portfolio companies.” Jack is Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Twitter and Square, and well-known proponent of BTC.
Dorsey has been vocal and very public about his preference for BTC, even promoting second layer solutions such as the Lightning Network (Dorsey is a prominent investor in Lightning Labs — his participation in a funding round was announced March of last year). His company Square’s popular Cash App began allowing BTC to be traded through its service in early 2018 as well. Square could also be considered something of a competitor to BitPay in terms of merchant adoption of BTC.
Bitcoin Cash was the first successful fork of BTC, and is also held in competitive light as a challenge to which cryptocurrency is peer-to-peer electronic cash or better used as a medium of exchange. @Bitcoin has been equally vocal about its preference for bitcoin cash, which it continually points to as more in line with Satoshi’s White Paper, the direct opposite view, apparently, of Dorsey.
@Bitcoin Supports Bitcoin Cash
Both Twitter and Square are publicly traded companies with many billions of investment dollars at stake. It is unknown who exactly is behind @Bitcoin, and obviously no one account or person represents Bitcoin, but the account has been online since 2011, despite overt bans by Twitter at various junctures, and occupies a coveted piece of social media real estate, /Bitcoin. @Bitcoin, again, is also very supportive of bitcoin cash.
The @Bitcoin account has been suspended (again) by @TwitterSupport only because Core trolls constantly submit fake reports about it. @Jack why do you guys keep letting this happen? Instead of suspending all the fake scammer accounts you suspend the real ones. WTF. pic.twitter.com/Z6yWR0y81N
— David Shares (@DavidShares) April 8, 2018
And around the time @Bitcoin claims a shadow ban campaign began, lasting to the present, investment both in capital and public promotion of BTC by Dorsey had indeed increased. In early April of 2018 @Bitcoin was formally banned, and the account taken down by Twitter largely believed due to active brigading of BTC supporters alleging violation of the platform’s terms of service.
The account was restored, but not without complaints about Twitter’s censorship practices generally. Accusations of shadow banning leveled at the platform are not new for Twitter. So much anecdotal evidence accumulated, pointing to accounts having similar problems much like that of @Bitcoin, Vijaya Gadde, the company’s Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead, was compelled to make a public statement in July of 2018.
We Do Not Shadow Ban
“We do not shadow ban,” Gadde insisted. “You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
The last sentence, Orwellian in its non-denial-denial, stood out to accusers at the time — just a couple of months after the @Bitcoin account ban and subsequent restoration. If the company doesn’t follow a practice, adding “And we certainly don’t” employ that practice in the service of X goal … reads … strange.
“We do rank tweets and search results,” Gadde acknowledged. “We do this because Twitter is most useful when it’s immediately relevant. These ranking models take many signals into consideration to best organize tweets for timely relevance. We must also address bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or detract from healthy conversation.” To many observers, that sounded a lot like shadow banning.
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