I’ve been using Twitter for many years and it has been my favorite social network by far. After falling down the rabbit hole late 2017, I created the @belowsearcher alias to follow cryptocurrencies related news and engage with the community, as I don’t want to attach my full name to it (e.g., for security reasons). During 2018, I also started blogging, essentially using my Medium account to share longer, more complex thoughts, research findings and educational content, and Twitter as the ideal supplement for shorter and more time-sensitive information and interaction related to the articles. However, this Tuesday (January 22nd), Twitter suspended my account for ‘automated behavior’ and I’ve not been able to get it back, even after appealing. In this post, I’m describing what may have happened, how appealing to a suspension works and some thoughts on my current situation.
What may have caused this?
Based on the timing of my suspension, there’s only one thing I can think of that may have triggered this. That afternoon, I had finished the first draft of my upcoming Medium article “How secure is Cardano?” that I expect to be released somewhere over the next few days [Update 26–01–2019 23:49 UTC+1: The article is now online.]. Like the title states, in the article I give an in-depth overview of the security model of Cardano’s settlement layer and how it differs from the security model of other Proof-of-Stake (PoS) cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin. I had asked two people from within the Cardano community that I respect to review the article (via Telegram), as I wanted to make sure my claims about Cardano were correct.
Additionally, via a Twitter direct message (DM) I also asked a Bitcoiner that I follow on Twitter. While I knew this person is critical of PoS cryptocurrencies, I thought it would be good to actually let someone with an opposing opinion also review it, as I find it important that my articles are factually correct and written in a relatively nuanced way. In the message, I basically complemented him on his own articles, described I had written an article with a related topic and asked him if he was interested in reviewing it since I wanted to get constructive feedback from someone outside the Cardano community as well, off course with no strings attached.
A few hours after sending this message, my account was suspended. Could it be that my DM triggered a spam-filtering algorithm on Twitter? Or had the person that I sent the DM to reported me? Due to the polite tone of my message and the way the person that I DM’ed normally communicates on Twitter, I don’t expect the latter to be the case. [Update 26–01–2019 13:02 UST+1: The person I DM’ed confirmed he didn’t report me, meaning it was indeed most likely an algorithm.] Even if it were, I’d think it would be quite clear to any human reviewing the situation that suspending an account for sending such a single DM is quite excessive. I was annoyed, but confident I would get my account back ad I felt I had done nothing wrong.
How does appealing to a Twitter suspension work?
When Twitter suspends your account, you are disconnected from any account you was following or follow you, as all counts go to 0. You also cannot reach your DM inbox any more or use any other function in Twitter. All it shows is a red bar with the text that your account was suspended, and a link to this website for more information.
The website you’re guided to is the Twitter Help Center, and explains there are three common reasons for suspension:
- Spam: Most of the suspensions are due to ‘spammy’ or fake accounts. Twitter mentions that sometimes a real person’s account gets suspended by mistake, in which case they’ll work with the person to make sure the account is unsuspended.
- Account security at risk: If they suspect an account has been hacked or compromised, it may be suspended until it can be secured and restored.
- Abusive Tweets or behavior: Accounts may be suspended if it has been reported to us as violating the Rules surrounding abuse, like sending threats to others or impersonating other accounts.
While I don’t think I violated any of the Twitter Rules, my hypothesis that it is most likely that I triggered a spam-filtering algorithm seems to hold up. The page then links to some advice about how you may be able to get your account unlocked by verifying your account using your telephone number, but unfortunately enough I didn’t get the respective prompt. Perhaps because my telephone number was already listed in my account.
This means that filling in an appeal to the suspension on this page is the only remaining option. The appeal is quite simple; you give some information about who you are and describe the nature of your appeal. My appeal was more or less a short version of what I’ve written above, expecting it would be quite obvious to anyone reviewing the matter that this was simply a mistake.
What happens after you send the appeal?
The first thing that happens is that you get an automated e-mail. In my case, it stated that my account “appears to have exhibited automated behavior that violates the Twitter Rules”. I was surprised to find out that Twitter apparently thinks I am a bot, but even more confident it would mean I would get my account back, since I’m clearly not. As a famous bot once said: “I’ll be back”.
The message continues by referring back to the tips about getting your locked account unlocked, which didn’t apply in my situation. Then it asks to send them additional information if this didn’t work, which I did.
What’s my current situation?
Two days later I received an e-mail stating that my account “has been suspended due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules. As such, these accounts will remain suspended.” The e-mail closed with: “Please do not respond to this email as replies and new appeals for this account will not be monitored.”
I’m speechless. Multiple violations? What did I do? The e-mail listed four behaviors that are violations of the Twitter Rules as an example:
- “Creating serial and/or multiple accounts with overlapping use cases.
- Evading a permanent suspension through the creation or use of a different account.
- Cross-posting Tweets or links across accounts.
- Aggressive following, particularly through automated means.”
In my case, I did not make multiple accounts with overlapping use cases (I do have two other accounts, but related to completely different topics), am not evading a permanent suspension since I was never suspended before, an not cross-posting tweets or links across accounts and am certainly not using ‘automated means’ to aggressively follow people.
Based on this list, the only thing I could think of was that the fact that my Medium and Hackernoon articles are being shared by other people on Twitter might be mistakenly seen as a form of cross-posting links, although I would expect that to be more even prevalent in more high profile writers.
I decided to dox myself and use my regular Twitter account to reach out to Twitter Support and appeal to the suspension of my @belowsearcher account, but Twitter just recognizes your account isn’t suspended and asks you to sign in with your suspended account if you want to appeal.
I then scrolled through many automated forms on the Twitter Help Center, trying to talk to Twitter Support via DM on Twitter (only to find out they’re using a bot, ironically) and searching for a telephone number or any other way to talk to a human being at Twitter that might be able to help me, with no success. After a tip from a Cardano community member, I filled in an information request at the Twitter Ads page, but again received an automated reply that they could only handle Twitter Ads-related questions and referred me back to the automated forms that I didn’t find helpful.
So currently, I’m stuck. I’ve decided to appeal again, but since the e-mail that I received states that ‘new replies for this account will not be monitored’, I’m starting to lose hope. In a period where people are starting to leave large centralized platforms due to censorship (e.g. the riot related to Patreon), I guess I’m feeling first-hand why depending on a centralized platform can be risky, as anyone can just pull out the plug and leave you in the dark.
Hence, I’m writing this article, both to be able to send the URL along with my next appeal if it gets rejected again, in the hopes that it helps proof that I am actually not a bot. If anyone has any ideas that may help me, please share them below the article as a response.
Update 26–01–2019 08:58 UTC+1: Kevin tipped me in a response underneath the article that Twitter’s telephone number can be found here (thanks!). I just called this number, but when you dial in the number for customer support, you just get a message that Twitter does not facilitate customer support via telephone.
Update 26–01–2019 13:02 UTC+1: The person that I DM’ed has confirmed he didn’t report me. This means it was indeed most likely an algorithm that filtered me out and suspended my account.
Update 05–02–2019 08:06 UTC+1: I still haven’t been able to get my Twitter account back, as I keep getting the same rejection letters to my appeal. I created a new Twitter handle and renamed all my channels for consistency. More information on this can be found here.