Over the past year as the communications service Twitter has rolled out new features with the stated goal of stopping "abusive tweets", critics have expressed concerns that this technology may be used for political censorship. These concerns received broader attention last week when Cryptome published a report by Paul Dietrich alleging that Twitter had hidden information about leaked NSA papers from American users. [cryptome.org]
As alleged by Dietrich, Twitter will hide information from users for the critical period of the first 24 hours, when users are most likely to spread the information, before allowing the information to be seen again. The disappearance and reappearance of the information resembles a software glitch. Dietrich describes this mechanism as "Censorship that doesn't look like censorship... Subtle, deniable, and quite ruthless."
Concerns about the system were first raised in April [twitter.com] by Twitter user Daddy Warpig who reported that Twitter was hiding all posts by certain users of the conservative #TCOT and liberal #Gamergate hashtags along with users affiliated with the Sad Puppies campaign of science-fiction authors protesting against a perceived bias [wordpress.com] in the Hugo Awards.
Twitter introduced a revised system in May, stating that it would hide only "tweets sent directly to an individual which are from a recently registered account and use language similar to previously flagged messages." Lizzy Finnegan, a writer for the Escapist, discovered [twitter.com] that Twitter was hiding messages from established users who had previously used the #Gamergate hashtag but was not blocking new accounts created to test the system by sending the exact same messages.
This is not the only time that Twitter has been accused of censorship. A report headlined by Rima Tamash of Rice University [acm.org] found that Twitter had censored 266,407 tweets of 7,642 Turkish users, with censored topics including politicians and the Aydin Dogan media group. In mid-July, Twitter deleted the accounts of several Japanese artists [crunchyroll.com] in response to a complaint from the Russian government [onahole.eu] that their works were pornographic. Earlier this year, Twitter suspended conservative commentator Janet Bloomfield [judgybitch.com] and manmade-global-warming denier Steven Goddard [dailycaller.com] for no apparent reason other than their beliefs.
Twitter has also been accused of targeting citizen journalists for reporting news that offends powerful interests. Vicki Pate of Re-Newsit was banned from Twitter after posting a satirical cartoon of attorney Benjamin Crump [radionewz.net]. Pate had written about the financial dealings of Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King [re-newsit.com], a business partner in the Upfront Foundation with Twitter director of innovation Claire Diaz-Oritz. RadioNewz was suspended from Twitter after reporting on Pate's suspension. In May, Twitter banned Chuck C. Johnson of GotNews [gotnews.com] for soliting donations "to taking out" Black Lives Matter protester Deray McKesson with a future expose.
Twitter banned minor Youtube celebrity LeoPirate [youtube.com] shortly after LeoPirate reported [youtube.com] on leaked internet chat logs revealing the past pedophilic tendencies of Nicholas Nyberg, the administrator of the video game music website FFShrine who currently writes for feminist websites under the pen name Sarah Butts. Twitter also banned the account of Encyclopedia Dramatica for reporting on the subject and briefly suspended [theothermccain.com] former Washington Times assistant editor Robert Stacy McCain for linking to one of his own articles about it.
As previously mentioned on Soylent News [soylentnews.org], late last year Twitter suspended several accounts associated with opposition to the Atheism+ movement and the Gamergate scandal.