Elon Musk says Twitter is rolling out a new feature that will flag ‘shadowbanning.’ It’s complicated

New York

Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk on Thursday said he plans to introduce an option to make it possible for users to determine if the company has limited how many other users can view their posts. In doing so, Musk is effectively seizing on an issue that has been a rallying cry among some conservatives who claim the social network has suppressed or “shadowbanned” their content.

“Twitter is working on a software update that will show your true account status, so you know clearly if you’ve been shadowbanned, the reason why and how to appeal,” Musk tweeted on Thursday. He did not provide additional details or a timetable.

His announcement came amid a new release of internal Twitter documents on Thursday, sanctioned and cheered by Musk, that once again placed a spotlight on the practice of limiting the reach of certain, potentially harmful content — a common practice in the industry that Musk himself has seemingly both endorsed and criticized.

Last month, Musk said Twitter’s “new” policy is “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” echoing an approach that is something of an industry standard. “Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter.”

With that announcement, Musk, who has said he now votes Republican, prompted an outcry from some conservatives, who accused him of continuing a practice they opposed. The clash reflects an underlying tension at Twitter under Musk, as the billionaire simultaneously has promised a more maximalist approach to “free speech,” a move cheered by some on the right, while also attempting to reassure advertisers and users that there will still be content moderation guardrails.

But with his tweet Thursday, and the release of the latest Twitter Files, he appeared to once again attempt to court some in conservative circles.

The second set of the so-called Twitter Files, shared by journalist Bari Weiss on Twitter, focused on how the company has restricted the reach of certain accounts, tweets or topics that it deems potentially harmful, including by limiting their ability to appear in the search or trending sections of the platform.

Weiss suggested that such actions were taken “all without users’ knowledge.” But Twitter has long been transparent about the fact that it may limit certain content that violates its policies and, in some cases, may apply “strikes” that correspond with suspensions for accounts that break its rules. In the case of strikes, users receive notification that their accounts have been temporarily suspended.

Weiss’ tweets follow the first “Twitter Files” drop earlier this month from journalist Matt Taibbi, who shared internal Twitter emails about the company’s decision to temporarily suppress a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden and his laptop, which largely corroborated what was already known about the incident.

In both cases, the internal documents appear to have been provided directly to the journalists by Musk’s team. Musk on Friday shared Weiss’ thread in a tweet and added, “The Twitter Files, Part Duex!!” along with two popcorn emojis.

The issue of how and why Twitter — like other major platforms — limits the reach of certain content has been long been a hot button issue on Capitol Hill and among some prominent social media users, especially conservatives. Twitter has repeatedly said it does not moderate content based on its political leaning, but instead enforces its policies equally in an effort to keep users safe. In 2018, founder and then-CEO Jack Dorsey told CNN in an interview that the company does “not look at content with regards to political viewpoint or ideology. We look at behavior.”

Weiss offered several examples of right-leaning figures who had moderation actions taken on their accounts, but it’s not clear if such actions were equally taken against left-leaning or other accounts.

The release of internal documents from Twitter’s prior leadership comes as Musk attempts to reshape the platform in his image. The billionaire has previously said he wants to do away with permanent user bans and Twitter has recently begun to restore the accounts of thousands of users, including some incendiary figures. But Musk has also said he doesn’t want Twitter to “become a free-for-all hellscape” and plans to moderate content in a way that appears largely consistent with Twitter’s prior policies.

In a blog post last week, Twitter said it had not changed its policies but that its approach to enforcement would rely heavily on de-amplification of violative tweets, something that Twitter already did, according to both the company’s previous statements and Weiss’ Friday tweets. “Freedom of speech,” the blog post stated, “not freedom of reach.”

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