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Twitter Targeting Algorithms To Censor Opposing Views

Photo: Twitter

There’s a certain well of internal rage that one feels after hearing something they strongly disagree with. It’s a universal feeling – so universal that its been given an official name: The Backfire Effect, stated by Wikipedia to occur when, “in the face of contradictory evidence, established beliefs do not change but actually get stronger. (…) people can be shown to increase their confidence in their prior position regardless of the evidence they were faced with.”

This is a roundabout way of saying that people have an ability to fire back on evidence that contradicts what they believe in, refusing to accept the evidence and instead becoming more convinced that their original beliefs are correct. It’s an effect that goes a long way to making a democrat frustrated while scrolling through Fox news, a Republican frustrated while watching CNN, and, apparently, Twitter Employees frustrated when reading posts or tweets they don’t agree with.

With every instance of the effect, knowing about it and calming oneself down can help a person overcome the effect and access the evidence rationally. Or, they can choose to ignore the effect and try to block out any chance they have of hearing opposing viewpoints. It would seem that  Twitter Employees have chosen to take the latter approach.

While Twitter’s terms of service state that it is a platform without politically neutral, James O’Keefe published a report on Project Veritas about secret algorithms that Twitter uses to target and “shadow ban” specific users.

According to the report, a “shadow ban” is essentially a hidden ban. The account in question will not be informed of any changes, but none of their posts will actually appear for other uses. The site will quietly banish them from communicating with the public – a sly attempt at censoring individuals the cite deems problematic. And according to the report, Twitter’s algorithm for deciding who to ban is being targeted at specific groups.

Keefe interviewed Twitter’s Direct Messaging Engineer Parnay Singh, who had this to say about the platform’s shadow banning learning algorithms: “You have like five thousand words to describe a redneck…The majority of it are for Republicans.”

Even more troubling, Twitter Engineer Stephen Pierre said he wanted the shadow banning effect to “ban a way of talking”.

Maybe this “way of talking” is meant to be more in line with Twitter’s previous ban on hate speech, where the platform promised to begin issuing bans on accounts that “express an affiliation with groups that use or celebrate violence to achieve their aims”.

But even if this is the case, Republicans certainly aren’t the only ones promoting violence against specific groups on twitter. And targeting an algorithm towards republican accounts might be banning accounts that weren’t doing anything wrong, while letting accounts that are actually promoting hate speech – but are democratically based – run free.

From a business perspective, there do exist reasons as to why Twitter would want their account to sit a little to either side of the political center. Most of this, once again, has to do with the Backfire Effect: it’s easy for a person to get frustrated and click off when they see a viewpoint that contradicts their own. If people recognize Twitter as a high-stress area due to so many opposing views, they’ll spend less time using the site, which means less ad revenue for Twitter. Many companies and platforms have already realized that true free speech is a poor business strategy, and have taken moves to, erm, limit what can be said in order to craft a more appealing space for their target audiences. But to what extend can people allow themselves to live in a delusional online environment where everyone agrees with them?

Many took to Twitter to argue against the ending of net neutrality, fearing that the absence of the service would allow companies to change what people see on the internet to please their political views. But little do they know that this nightmare has been happening for a long time, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon.

Featured Image Via Flickr / mkhmarketing

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