Twitter is considered to be one of the most important social media platforms. The site gives small businesses, cause-oriented organizations, and even ordinary users the opportunity to engage with others and express their thoughts and opinions.
In recent years, though, 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 the censorship.
Twitter has long been considered to be a bastion of free speech for everyone. But, the site has also been criticized for its seemingly lax attitude towards the abusive behavior that occurs on the platform.
Harassment frequently occurs on the site. Perpetrators often send posts rife with threatening messages and abusive languages to victims they wish to silence. Sometimes, these “trolls” resort to using automated accounts for the attacks. They use the 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.
— Racist Miles O'Brien (@Holeeprepuce) October 9, 2016
They also said that it can happen to just about anyone. The resulting effects range from the victims simply opting to leave Twitter, to much more serious consequences.
Aside from pervasive harassment, another problem that has come along Twitter’s way in the last two years is misinformation and fake news. While the issue is mostly associated with Facebook, Twitter has also been used by certain groups or individuals to spread manufactured news aimed at influencing public opinion.
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 the then presidential candidate 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.
The site itself admits that it is having a hard time dealing with abusive behavior on its platform. In an interview with The Verge, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said that they had indeed been slow in responding to the problem of trolls on their platform. He added that it was one of the reasons they lost a considerable number of core users during the last few years.
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. Prominent examples include 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 (@nasyo_) July 21, 2016
Meanwhile, businessman Martin Shkreli also had his account suspended after reportedly using Twitter to make indecent advances at magazine writer Lauren Duca.
While the move to block accounts has been hailed by many, it has also raised a lot of concerns among others. The biggest one is that this is, in essence, clamping down on the right free speech. Twitter does have the power to suspend erring members by virtue of its being a private entity. But, doing so can 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.
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 (@Support) 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:
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.
They also say that the filter does not affect your timeline. This means that you are still able to see tweets coming from people you follow as well as those from whom you have recently interacted with. The filter can also be turned off if you wish. This gives you more control over what you can and can’t see.
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:
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.
Due to the significant impact of censorship on Twitter, advocates of free speech have called on users to fight it. With the intricate nature of the issue, though, it can appear to be a daunting task. Here are some strategies you can use to deal with censorship on the site:
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. In particular, it disallows:
By abiding by these rules, you can make sure that your tweets wont be blocked by Twitter.
One thing to remember here is that this move is not completely fool-proof. In an experiment conducted by Time Magazine’s Charlotte Alter, it was found that Twitter does not always immediately respond to reports of harassment.
Alter says the site only responded to her actions when she said the “threats” she had made to a participating colleague were potentially life threatening. She added that it took repeated mock-attacks for her test account to be suspended.
To further protect its system, Twitter does not publish the list of words it flags. But, 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 go around potential censorship of your tweets’ content.
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 people and 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 over the fact.
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 automated engagements to bounce back from the effects of long-term censorships. Use automated retweets to quickly get the word out to your audiences that you are back online. On the other hand, automatic likes can help draw attention back to your Twitter profile.
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 might 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 words 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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
By following this guideline, you can reduce the impact that censorship might have on your Twitter marketing efforts.