Twitter sometimes shadowbans accounts. This method includes preventing people from seeing whatever the user is tweeting out to the public. It also prevents other people from receiving notifications from a user who is shadowbanned. It effectively creates an isolated echo-chamber where a shadowbanned user can only interact with their own account, unless other users employ roundabout ways to interact with them. In one recent case, Twitter’s shadowbans led many to believe that they were engaging in anti-competitive behavior, something some people believed to be an antitrust violation.
On July 20th, 2016 a couple of users reached out because they were distressed about the possibility of being shadowbanned. In a private conversation I was informed that some users were trying to start a social media network that rivals Twitter in its features and functions called Sealion Club. It’s an open-source Twitter-style platform.
However, any user who added the links of Sealion Club to their account would receive error messages when attempting to add it to their profile.
Attempting to send tweets with the link also failed.
What’s more is that those attempting to use link shorteners or add it to their profile in any way, ended up being shadowbanned. It wasn’t an isolated case either.
User Anarchangel_ attempted to contact me via Twitter but his messages would not appear in my mentions, which happens to be ironic given that the tweet was about people being shadowbanned and not appearing in the mentions.
— Joe (@Anarchangel_) July 20, 2016
Another user going by the name of conrad1on also had been shadowbanned, with no one being able to see his tweets unless they went to his account page.
After checking my mentions and seeing that various individuals who tried contacting me were not showing up in the notification or mentions area, I reached out to Twitter support to ask what was happening and why was the Sealion Club link causing people to become shadowbanned? I also inquired as to what their standards and practices were regarding the application of shadowbans to accounts? As of the writing of this article I have not received a reply.
Additionally, I tweeted directly at Twitter pointing out that my mentions did not show a number of people who were attempting to contact me, effectively censoring them from communicating with me.
— William Usher (@WilliamUsherGB) July 20, 2016
For context, you can see that the screenshots were taken at the same time, but the notification for being mentioned by other users shows that the last person to contact me at that time was from 18 hours ago, even though conrad had attempted to contact me just a few minutes before I took the screenshots.
A similar thing happened before with Twitter user Ninja Economics, also known as Cynthia Than; she was shadowbanned and her Tweets would not appear in my notifications or mentions. Cynthia Than had various run-ins with Twitter and their lack of support due to them not pursuing harassers even after she presented them with evidence.
— Ninja Economics (@NinjaEconomics) July 21, 2016
Honey Badger Brigade’s Hannah Wallen also had her various accounts shadowbanned as well, resulting in her having to use alternate accounts in order to communicate.
The selective censoring – and in this case blocking the promotion of a rival site – did not sit well with the creator of the Sealion Club, Hope Mckenna. She tweeted out her frustrations after warning people about using link shorteners for the site…
“Ready for some fun? sealionclub is blacklisted So @MrShikaki made a shortlink People post it, they get shadowbanned. Essentially, if you can trick people into posting or retweeting that goo.gl link, they get shadowbanned. Flat out. Holy shit, Twitter.”
“[…] This is lawsuit worthy. This is damaging my fucking brand. Think about it. A URL no one can even mention on a large platform. Anti-trust.”
Speaking of antitrust violations…
In this particular case, this would not be considered as a group boycott since it’s just Twitter involved, but it could be considered as a “Refusal to Deal”. The “Refusal to Deal” is a sub-section dealing with single firm conduct in relation to a monopoly.
On the official FTC website, they explain…
“[…] courts have, in some circumstances, found antitrust liability when a firm with market power refused to do business with a competitor. For instance, if the monopolist refuses to sell a product or service to a competitor that it makes available to others, or if the monopolist has done business with the competitor and then stops, the monopolist needs a legitimate business reason for its policies.”
Deputy Assistant Attorney General makan Delrahim also explained slightly further what that means in an Antitrust Enforcement in the Entertainment and Media Industries dossier, where Delrahim states…
“[…] there must be a showing that the challenged firm’s conduct is exclusionary or predatory.”
So simply put, if rival services can still use Twitter and advertise on Twitter or have links in profiles or tweets, but the Sealion Club cannot, and furthermore users are being censored or banned or prohibited in some way from using the service as other users are making use of the service – even when linking to rival platforms – then it could be classified as an antitrust violation.
However, the Twitter terms of service indicates that a link or site could be banned if it contains malware or phishing, in which they state…
“You may not publish or link to malicious content intended to damage or disrupt another person’s browser or computer or to compromise a person’s privacy.”
Again, Twitter did not clarify if the Sealion Club was actually malicious. However, I did run the site through a website virus scanner and it did show up that Sealion Club was added to a blacklist.
According to Sitecheck, the blacklist it was added to was The Spamhaus Project, which is an international, nonprofit security organization that logs and maintains an extensive database of both e-mail and web related spam.
The site shows that in the DBL, the Domain Blocklist, the Sealion Club is a listed site.
The Spamhaus Project describes the DBL and its operation with the following description…
“The DBL is both a domain URI Blocklist and RHSBL. It is intended primarily for message body URI checks but it can additionally be used for connection checks at the SMTP level and header domain checks (HELO, connecting IP rDNS domain, From & Reply-To domains, Message-ID domain) and other checks involving domains.”
However, after running the site through other checks, no flags went off for malicious content. The original flag for Sealion Club was raised on Site Check because of the Spamhaus blacklisting. One of the other sites, Quttera.com, shows that there are no malicious links and that the site is safe to use.
Technically, the site that has the warning about Sealion Club doesn’t actually say that there are any actual malicious files on the site, only that it’s blacklisted by Spamhaus and therefore it potentially could be a risk. Spamhaus, however, does not go into detail as to why the site is blacklisted.
After reaching out to Hope McKenna about the issue, she stated that she wasn’t sure why Spamhaus flagged the site considering that they don’t have an open e-mail server or proxy.
Again, Twitter did not verify if the Spamhaus listing is what caused the shadowbans or if it was another reason. They have been unwilling to verify or confirm why they chose to enact the bans in the way that they did.
Now on the upside, the users who have been shadowbanned have had their bans lifted. According to one user, light shadowbans only last for 24 hours; after that a user’s ability to tweet and respond to others is restored.
You can contact Twitter to ask them to further clarify the ban on Sealion Club, or for those of you who feel as if Twitter should make publicly transparent statements responding to the matter, you can contact the Bureau of Competition through the FTC’s website or by e-mailing them directly at: antitrust(at)ftc.gov.
(Main image courtesy of Tito Korwin)