Shadowbanned: Prominent Republicans missing from Twitter search

Shadowbanned: Prominent Republicans missing from Twitter search
Searching Twitter for the accounts of several prominent Republican lawmakers, and even the chairwoman of the Republican Party, produces, it seems, no results in the drop-down menu, prompting complaints of a “shadowban.”

If you were looking for the account of GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel or representatives Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), you’d be out of luck: Their names would not show up in the drop-down results menu. Neither would the verified profile for House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-California).

Meadows, Jordan and Gaetz are all members of the Freedom Caucus and, along with Nunes, are outspoken supporters of President Donald Trump. The president’s critics, such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) and DNC chairman Tom Perez, or any of the 78 members of the Progressive Caucus, continued to appear in searches, VICE magazine found.

Responding to VICE, a Twitter spokesperson said the company was “aware that some accounts are not automatically populating in our search box and shipping a change to address this.” However, when confronted with the partisan nature of the search problem, the spokesperson seemed to blame the “behavior” of the accounts in question.

“I'd emphasize that our technology is based on account ‘behavior’ not the content of Tweets,” they told VICE, without elaborating.

“Some accounts weren’t being auto-suggested even when people were searching for their specific name. Our usage of the behavior signals within search was causing this to happen & making search results seem inaccurate. We’re making a change today that will improve this,” Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour said on Wednesday.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey described the problem as "some issues folks are encountering as a result of our conversational health work."

Back in May, Twitter announced it would prioritize certain tweets and hide others in order to improve the “quality of conversations” on the platform, prompting complaints by Trump supporters that they were being throttled or “shadowbanned” by the platform.

This prompted GOP Chairwoman McDaniel and Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale to send a letter to Twitter and Facebook, requesting assurances the platforms will not bow to political pressure to censor speech.

“The notion that social media companies would suppress certain political points of view should concern every American,” McDaniel told VICE in a statement on Wednesday. “Twitter owes the public answers to what’s really going on.”

Shortly after that, her account was once again showing in the search box results. Gaetz, Jordan and Meadows remained missing, however.

Trump has been an early adopter of Twitter and used the platform to great effect in his presidential campaign. Parscale was hired as a social media guru and he leveraged the campaign’s access to Twitter and Facebook to get Trump’s message to America, bypassing the legacy media that were seen as overwhelmingly favoring Hillary Clinton.

Because of this, both Twitter and Facebook came under intense pressure by Democrats following the election to crack down on “fake news,” alleged “Russian bots” and political advertising on their platforms. Twitter has also purged thousands of users under a variety of pretexts.

While Twitter insists it doesn’t have to explain individual bans because it’s a private company, in May a federal judge described it as a “designated public forum,” ruling that Trump could not block other users from commenting on his personal account.