Social media giant Twitter is the late target of Project Veritas, the controversial undercover journalism operation, which went public on Thursday with footage that showed current and former Twitter employees outlining the platform’s approach to censoring political viewpoints it does not agree with.
In the video, former Twitter engineer Conrado Miranda explains how Twitter uses automated filters to lessen the impact and spread of pro-Trump tweets, or those that express conservative opinions. Former Twitter software engineer Abhinov Vadrevu describes a different form of censorship.
“The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and no one sees their content,” he says. “So they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it.”
“You just sort of turn off all the features for them. They still see everything, it’s all there. You can like it, favorite it, or you can like retweet, or whatever. But at the end of the day, no one else interacts. No one else sees what you’re doing,” Vadrevu adds, acknowledging that public knowledge of the practice would play out poorly for Twitter’s reputation.
Twitter direct messaging engineer Pranay Singh goes so far as to suggest that U.S. government pressure is responsible for preventing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s account from getting verified. He also lays out how Twitter automatically seeks out and bans pro-Trump accounts by adding point values to certain types of unwanted posts and banning accounts when they accrue enough points.
“Yeah you look for Trump, or America, and you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck,” he says. “Then you look and parse all the messages, all the pictures, and then you look for stuff that matches that stuff.”
In a statement, Twitter pushed back against Project Veritas, employing a similar defense that other organizations targeted by the outlet have used.
“We deplore the deceptive and underhanded tactics by which the footage was obtained and selectively edited to fit a pre-determined narrative,” the company said. “Twitter is committed to enforcing our rules without bias and empowering every voice on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.”
Twitter also added: “Twitter does not shadowban accounts. We do take actions to downrank accounts that are abusive, and mark them accordingly so people can still click through and see these tweets if they so choose.”