Twitter is an important social media platform. The site gives small businesses, cause-oriented organizations, and ordinary users the opportunity to engage with others and express their thoughts and opinions.
In recent years, Twitter censorship has become a prevailing issue for many of its users. Read on to understand how the matter came about and to learn what you can do to protect yourself from Twitter’s censorship.
It's this kind of censorship that results in uninformed beliefs and breaches free speech. Why is Twitter telling me what's "offensive"? pic.twitter.com/6vYXNb6cWI
— Lexi Mealey (@LexiMealey) June 30, 2017
How to fight back against Twitter censorship
The first step in protecting yourself from any form of censorship on Twitter is to comprehend its rules. The site does provide a set of general rules that govern the posting of tweets. It disallows:
- Direct or indirect aggressive threats: Threats of violence, or the promotion of it, is prohibited.
- Acts of harassment: This means participating in abusive attacks against others. Twitter considers reported actions as harassment if:
- The main purpose of the account is to send abusive messages
- The reported actions are coming from a single account
- The reported account is urging others to harass other accounts
- Hate speech: Direct attacks or threats against another person based on race, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, or disability are forbidden.
- Abuse using multiple accounts: Creating multiple accounts for the purpose of conducting abusive behavior is against the rules.
- Leaking of private information: You can’t post private information about other people without their consent or permission. This includes pictures.
- Impersonation: The use of other people’s identity for whatever purposes is not allowed.
- Self-harm: The posting of threats to hurt oneself or commit suicide are also not allowed.
To further protect its system, Twitter does not publish the list of words it flags. By doing the same test that was done by Alter, you can get a good idea of what they are. This all means that by combining what you have just learned with careful attention to the guidelines, you can effectively get around potential censorship of your tweets’ content.
Negotiating the lifting of censorship
Even with its noble intentions of dealing with abusive behavior and protecting its users, Twitter’s policies on content regulation are still not perfect. The company often ends up blocking the wrong accounts. What’s worse, trying to contest a case of faulty Twitter censorship can be quite a difficult task.
— QueeniesSoapbox 🇬🇧 (@QueeniesSoapbox) March 25, 2017
Alexandra Brodsky, an activist and research Fellow at the National Women’s Center of Yale Law School, found this out the hard way when her account was suspended in January. She had received a series of derogatory tweets that attacked her on the basis of her Jewish background. In a strange twist, it was her own account that ended up being suspended for allegedly breaching the site’s rules.
Brodsky was only able to recover her account after some of her 5000 followers directly lodged a complaint to Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey. A journalist also contacted the company and asked for comments, further highlighting the case. Brodsky says that during that incident it seemed Twitter only responded after there was a large amount of public outcry after the fact.
Getting back from Twitter censorship
As you will learn below, being censored by Twitter can have an impact on your online activities. For ordinary users, this might mean the relatively minor inconvenience of not being able to tweet. But for marketers and prominent personalities, this stands to cause even bigger problems. The main concern in their case is that prolonged absences due to suspensions can cause a drop in their audience numbers.
I was censored for impersonating Dan Pena in a joking manner. Sorry guys.
— The Rainmaker (@PopeDarth) March 16, 2017
You can use our Auto Engagements Service to bounce back from the effects of long-term censorship. Use automated retweets to quickly get the word out to your audiences that you are back online.
Understanding how Twitter censors content
Twitter has long been considered to be a bastion of free speech. It has also been criticized for its seemingly lax attitude towards the abusive behavior that occurs on the platform. Abusive users send tweets with threatening and abusive language to victims. These trolls may even resort to using automated bots to pressure their victims with a massive number of inflammatory tweets while keeping their identities hidden.
The Atlantic notes that minorities are often the targets of such attacks. Their own editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, had even been subjected to such abuse.
I'd love to shove dog whistles up the ass of every rich media jew that whines about underclass resentment
— Racist Miles O'Brien (@Holeeprepuce) October 9, 2016
This can happen to just about anyone. The resulting effects range from the victims simply opting to leave Twitter, to much more serious consequences.
Another problem to come up in the last two years is misinformation and fake news. While the issue is mostly associated with Facebook, Twitter has also been used to spread manufactured news aimed at influencing public opinion. Like this idiocy:
Retweet If you believe the Earth is Flat! How many of us are out there! #FlatEarth
— Awake (@Spacehehehe) July 6, 2017
Though the issues of harassment and misinformation have long been a concern for Twitter, both issues really came to the fore during the 2016 US presidential elections. Supporters of Donald Trump were accused of resorting to such attacks to silence critics and swing the election results in their favor. Outside the United States, the tactics have also reportedly been used by political groups to harass opposition figures.
Twitter’s solution: Suspending erring accounts
The site itself admits that it is having a hard time dealing with abusive behavior on its platform. One of the solutions that Twitter has sought to crack down on abusive behavior within its folds is to suspend the accounts of those who have been known to engage in such activities. A prominent example is Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, who was found to have engaged in racist attacks against actress Leslie Jones. Yiannopoulos’ account was permanently suspended after the incident.
That news yesterday that Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently suspended from Twitter was music to my ears.
— نسيم (@aokiji_88) July 21, 2016
Blocking accounts has been hailed by many, but it has also raised concerns. The biggest one is that people mistakenly see this as an attack on free-speech. Twitter has the power to suspend erring members by virtue of it being a private entity. Free speech rights apply to government actions, not private entities. Twitter’s actions can still affect the public’s perception of its image as a platform for free speech. This can end up creating more support for the trolls from the public.
Quality filters and the Safety Council
Outside of banning accounts, Twitter has also sought other ways to deal with abusive behavior. The most recent example of this is the introduction of quality filters.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) August 18, 2016
According to Twitter, the feature is designed to block out tweets that are deemed to be of low quality from appearing on users’ notifications. The decision to collapse such tweets depends on a number of points that include:
- The origin of the tweet
- The past behavior of the account sending the tweet
- Whether or not the tweet is a duplicate
Twitter says that by using these points, the feature provides a better browsing experience for users and helps protect them from any harassment that might be directed at them.
Along with the filter, Twitter also announced the formation of a “Trust & Safety Council” to deal with abuse while balancing free speech. The council is made up of several organizations, including:
- The Anti-Defamation League
- Center for Democracy and Technology
- Dangerous Speech Project
- Family Online Safety Institute
Twitter says these organizations will assist in developing guidelines and measures to better deal with the nuances and intricacies surrounding online harassments and the way they are handled. Concerns about censorship still remain.
How Twitter’s censorship affects marketing
When marketing on Twitter, making the most out of the 140-character limit is often a big challenge. Twitter’s censorship rules make it even harder as there might be words in a marketing tweet that look innocuous at first glance, but could end up triggering the censorship filters. Because of that, marketers are hard-pressed to find the right language that not only promotes their products, but also avoids being flagged for inappropriate word usage.
Censorship of images is an even bigger concern for marketers. Owing to the secrecy surrounding Twitter’s algorithm, users are left second-guessing as to which kinds of images could trigger it.
Twitter censorship can affect your website’s rankings
In the last couple of years, Twitter has become increasingly essential in Google search rankings. This is due to a deal struck between the two companies allowing the latter to access the former’s data stream. Because of this, Twitter’s censorship policies can have a significant impact on both a Twitter account and its associated websites’ rankings.
Search Engine Land says that there are four different inputs that Google uses from Twitter:
- Trend strength: How popular a trend is, measured through hashtag and keyword usage frequencies.
- Tweet engagement: How popular a specific tweet is based on the number of likes, retweets, and link clicks it gets.
- User influence: The strength of users themselves based on the number of followers, follower-to-following ratios, and links included in @mentions.
- Link/Page strength: The amount of traffic coming from links within tweets.
When your tweets get censored, you lose ground on all of these inputs as your audiences won’t be able to interact with your content. This becomes even more pressing if your whole account gets suspended.
Censorship can lead to unwanted costs
As Internet marketer Simone Favaro notes, any form of Internet censorship can create additional costs for businesses. These costs range from additional production costs needed to ensure that the content won’t be blocked by the censors, to the efforts required to bounce back from its after-effects. Favaro adds that it is the small businesses that get hit the most as they need to use a larger portion of their already limited resources at their disposal.
Protect your brand and fight Twitter censorship
Censorship on Twitter will likely be a significant issue in the foreseeable future. With its effects impacting everyone from regular users to big businesses and personalities, it is important that you know how to fight against it.
I may not be here for much longer. I'm being censored. Twitter is sending me Twitter warnings saying they can't verify me.
— Yo-G (@TheRealYoG) March 2, 2017
To fight Twitter censorship you should:
- Understand its censorship policies: By getting a good grasp on how Twitter applies its censorship policies and guidelines, you will not only be able to better abide by them, but also be able to find ways to get around them.
- Make a strong case to convince Twitter to overturn its decision: Look at the various strategies you can use to argue against any censoring you might be submitted to. Gaining public support for your case also helps.
- Know how to come back from censorship: Get your Twitter account back on track by rebuilding your follower engagement. Use all available tools at your disposal to regain your presence in your audiences’ feeds. If you’re follow her numbers have dropped off significantly, use our Twitter Followers Service to regain your prestige.
By following this guideline, you can reduce the impact that censorship might have on your Twitter marketing efforts.