My experience of Twitter censorship

“Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one accepts the implications of this.”
 — George Orwell in England, your England

We are used to hearing about censorship in far-off lands under despotic regimes. Closer to home, most people are aware of “controversial” issues that have invoked the powers that be to clamp down on the press. Indeed, in Britain (where I live) there is a system of “D-notices” to keep the TV and newspapers from reporting things that would damage the legitimacy of the ruling class.

America is supposed to be different. Social media platform users in theory enjoy constitutionally protected freedom of speech under the First Amendment. The platforms themselves are also subject to legislative requirements, both being a public company and public forum, to treat all users equally. So when I personally experienced naked censorship by Twitter, it was quite a jolt.

Here is what I did, and what happened as a result.


Help! My tweet is trapped!

As background, I have been on Twitter since December 2007, and an active user for most of that period. I have sent over 40,000 tweets, and amassed over 10,000 followers as a result. I have done this entirely organically — no buying followers, or engaging in schemes to inflate my audience. So I am a very experienced user of the platform, with a high personal investment, and significant engagement.

On 6th July, early in the morning, I was in Lithuania. I tried to tweet about the website qproofs.com, which states “#Qanon’s intel drops are approved by President Trump and the proofs provided here will debunk any claims otherwise. This is not a conspiracy theory nor is it a prank. This is a massive effort for alertness and transparency from our government.”

Here’s the message I got when I tried to tweet about qproofs.com:

“This request looks like it might be automated. To protect our users from spam and other malicious activity, we can’t complete this action right now. Please try again later”

Given the domain had only just been launched to #MAGA supporters, that struck me as very strange indeed. I’ve never seen this message before or since. How… suspicious.

I didn’t screen capture it, as I was too hasty to copy it and search Twitter for anyone else having the same message. Oddly, pretty much everyone was complaining that they got that message when they tried to talk about this same website, or various Trump-related topics. So, I tried again… maybe it was a technical problem?

Hmm. Seems strange — different error, unrelated to automation. Another go!

Blocked again! Then the next morning, I tried it on my mobile…

Any mention of qproofs.com was blocked, just in a different way. Each time, I was able to tweet other messages without the domain, so it wasn’t a network or application problem — it definitely was a policy about the specific content I was sending.

After a day or so it changed, and was no longer blocked. I guess it was just a bit too naked censorship, even for Twitter.

Quick! Delete the evidence!

In the tradition that the cover-up is often worse than the crime, it seems that the great majority of the messages that I was able to search for at the time, containing the “malicious activity” error text, have disappeared from search results. I used “qproofs” without the “.com” and it seems to have evaded the memory hole:

There’s just a single example of the #trumphotels hashtag reference, where there used to be many:

It is possible — although hopelessly naive — to invent an innocent explanation for the automated filtering of qproofs.com. It would make you look like some crazed coincidence theorist. It’s the hiding of the censorship evidence — even if I wasn’t wise enough to do a video screen capture of the search results at the time — that gives me the confidence to say that Twitter has a case to answer. When you’re in a crowd all choking on thick smoke, it’s reasonable to ask where the fire might be.

Does Twitter have something to hide?

So why should this innocuous domain create such an extreme reaction by Twitter, risking the reputation of the platform as well as legal and financial repercussions? After all, the media assures us that #QAnon is just a deranged conspiracy, only believed by right-wing extremists and people of very poor intellectual sensibilities. I mean, really, all this fuss for a larp?

It is worth noting at this point that #QAnon has repeatedly accused Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey personally, and Twitter as a corporation, of being guilty of serious criminal acts. These would presumptively include racketeering and election fraud, with the complicity of the Democratic party. I am willing to repeat these accusations as there is now widespread and strong supporting evidence of their truth.

I have also written previously about my belief that there is overwhelming evidence that Q is a military-backed operation to discredit and delegitimise corrupt and compromised media companies. (72,000 views and rising!) The hit pieces and smears on #QAnon in the past few days are the dying gasps of those failing institutions. Their days as the voice of authority are over: they can’t even get basic facts right about how 8chan works, so why believe prognostications that come from an incompetent place?

To those paying sufficient attention to the evidence, their contortions of the truth are merely setting themselves up for imminent catastrophic failure. Q now only needs to launch one “truth bomb” — with the awful extent of FISA surveillance abuse being the likely incendiary device. This will instantly vaporise the thinking public’s remaining trust in organisations like The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, and Newsweek. For none of these well-equipped newsrooms has tried the obscure journalistic technique of simply asking the White House if Q is a legitimate mouthpiece or not. Funny, that, can’t imagine why!

The mass media and social media are both equally scandal-ridden. There are also reports that “Some high-level MANAGERS at gigantic social media companies have received literally millions of dollars in pay-offs to establish or use under-the-radar company policies to impose severe censorship on certain views and to silence certain people; often times without the knowledge or consent of the Highest Executives or Boards of Directors of those companies! These pay-offs USURP actual executive power in some giant social media outlets.”

These claims are credible given the emerging picture of endemic and organised criminality across the whole tech-media landscape. So we’re playing for high stakes here — Silicon Valley is a fetid swamp too, despite the dry Californian climate. There is a stream of serious concerns by Twitter’s users — I have noted dozens of people facing censorship problems. There is also manifest suppression of #MAGA and conservative opinions, creating a false echo chamber for those immersed in groupthink.

These are matters of the utmost seriousness: a free and open society cannot subsist on subversive digital platforms engaged in surreptitious censorship. President Trump himself has criticised Twitter for “shadow banning” people. Do you really think someone who has the whole national security apparatus at his fingertips would say that if it wasn’t true? For what purpose would he offer a hostage to fortune by making a false accusation?

Why also would Twitter alienate a huge proportion of its user base and potential audience — with 300m people aware of #TheGreatAwakening, and 50m engaged, according to Q. What kind of brand advertiser would want to be associated with a platform whose users are in revolt against corruption? If you’re a Twitter shareholder, I would be worried at this point about return of capital, not return on capital. The stock is already being hammered. The truth is coming out — and it’s not pretty. Institutional corruption and criminality doesn’t end well.

I’m alright, @Jack. Are you?

I personally don’t appreciate being part of an Orwellian social engineering project. I pay Twitter with my best creative effort, not cash, helping to make it a platform worth engaging in. They have broken our deal, taking the advertiser fortune without offering the compensatory user fame. It’s not the job of social media platforms to engineer public opinion towards a progressive narrative, or to vet perfectly legal content in case it offends someone. Isolating people from opposing ideas is what cults do.

This response really captured the essence for me: “This is not freedom”.

Now it’s freedom or bust, @Jack. Choose wisely. And choose soon.

You need us more than we need you.

“I sometimes think that the price of liberty is not so much eternal vigilance as eternal dirt.”
 — George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier

Labours of love are all very well, but you can’t drink or eat them!

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This article was originally published as a Future of Communications newsletter.


About Martin Geddes

I am a distributed computation expert, network performance scientist, and consultant to telcos and their vendors.

I collaborate with leading practitioners in the communications industry to create game-changing new technologies and businesses.

Get in touch if you need a thinking partner, inspiring speaker, workshop magician, or strategic advisor. I also offer education in network performance, digital supply chain quality, and the future of the Internet.

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