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Twitter had secret blacklists, Elon Musk reveals in new ‘Twitter Files’

Elon Musk. (Brendan Smialowski/La Nacion via ZUMA Press/TNS)
December 09, 2022

Another batch of internal Twitter documents has been released purporting to reveal the social media site secretly put users on blacklists to limit the reach of their content.

New Twitter CEO Elon Musk has been releasing the so-called “Twitter Files” through independent journalists, who are reporting the material as proof that Musk’s predecessors politically censored users. Journalist Matt Taibbi released the first part of the “Twitter Files” last weekend.

Former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss followed up on Thursday with a second batch that she said gives a behind-the-scenes look at how Twitter limited the spread of certain users’ tweets. 

She posted photos apparently showing an internal Twitter dashboard, where “blacklist” labels were applied to several users. Stanford professor Jay Bhattacharya, an opponent of COVID-19 lockdowns, was on a “Trends Blacklist” that prevented his tweets from trending, and right-wing radio host Dan Bongino was on a “Search Blacklist.”

Weiss wrote that these “blacklist” actions were taken “all without users’ knowledge.”

Limiting certain users’ visibility while not banning them outright is popularly known as “shadowbanning.” Twitter has previously denied “shadowbanning” according to a narrow definition of the term, while “limiting tweet visibility” has publicly been one of its enforcement options since at least 2018.

According to Weiss, multiple high-level Twitter sources told her that the company’s internal jargon of “visibility filtering” is synonymous with the more popular “shadowbanning” term.

Internal chat messages shared by Weiss appear to reveal that Twitter employees used technicalities to restrict accounts that they believed another team should have restricted.

Thursday night, Musk said Twitter is working to make that process more transparent while openly referring to it as being “shadowbanned.”

While Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was fueled by his push to allow a broader range of “free speech,” he has openly favored limiting the “reach” of “negative/hate tweets.”