Friday, May 20

Social Media Shadowban or Account Removal, What’s your Poison?

Typically, social networking sites run on ‘attention.’ But a shadowban on social media is limiting the impact of creator-generated ‘attention’ without interfering with their ability to post or interact with their network. A creator shadowbanned on social media is not aware of the sabotage. They can send messages, add new followers, or respond to other people’s posts. However, their activities and usernames may not appear in searches or feeds.

Social media platforms argue that they aim to reduce the spread of fake news and offensive content. Unfortunately, fake news and offensive posts seem to still be prevalent on the sites, and a significant number of accounts have been mysteriously banned for no apparent reason.

Reportedly, in 2017, several photographers, writers, and influencers recorded a significant drop in engagement on Instagram. Facebook’s new acquisition, Instagram, didn’t inform the users of where they went wrong until a tech reporter Taylor Lorenz attributed it to the usage of spammy hashtags. Later, Facebook too used a machine learning (ML) model to recognize and reduce the influence of people and pages that heavily relied on ‘engagement bait‘ to reduce unnecessary clutter on the news feed. 

Instagram’s vague policies to protect users from ‘harmful content’ are quite confusing. For instance, despite having over 28,000 followers, Pxssy Palace, a queer art group, and London club night saw dramatic drops in views, tweets, and interaction resulting from shadow banning. The practice has become more common as part of the app’s wider crackdown on what it considers ‘sexual content.’ This repression of queer online groups that are proud of their bodies and sexuality is a significant step backward. Instagram’s inability to describe what it means to be “explicitly sexual” and consider its issues is discriminatory. Users who want to use the platform to break down cultural barriers and build an inclusive online community for marginalized groups are being punished unfairly. 

In 2018, President Trump accused Twitter of ‘shadow banning’ Republicans in a tweet. It has been a long-running mystery over whether social media sites discriminate against conservative users based on their political and cultural beliefs. With the outbreak of novel coronavirus in 2020, political parties worldwide started using social media platforms to promote their digital campaigns. However, for many conservative groups, the rising problem of tech censorship has become a big roadblock. As of now, not overt bans or removals, but the more subtle trick of shadow banning has been the most successful method of censoring campaigns.

A bizarre recent controversy reported that the Indian government asked Twitter to censor tweets criticizing their poor response to the ongoing pandemic’s second wave looming over the country. Twitter took down over 20 tweets in India. According to Lumen Database, an online transparency project run by Harvard University, the government requested on April 23 to ban dozens of tweets highlighting the Indian government’s ignorance of the situation. The request filed under the Information Technology Act has been criticized as a mechanism for censorship. How is censoring the common public’s tweets the solution to poor governance?

The information shared on social media sites is highly subjective. What is offensive to me may not be offensive to another user. Because there is no universal definition of offensive content, it is in your best interest to adhere to all of the social networking sites’ published guidelines. Social media hygiene is also essential. However, there are few pointers one can keep in mind to avoid a shadowban.

  • Avoid using ‘banned hashtags’
  • Follow community guidelines set by each social media platform
  • Consider switching your business account to a personal account (only for a few days)
  • Report to the respective network if your activities are restricted for no reason

While downranking prevents dissemination of rumors but, any secretive, large-scale moderation scheme is frustrating. Sometimes, social media networks may be under the influence of an enterprise to sabotage an independent creator or a business peer. Sometimes, social media networks succumb to political pressure to act against their own ‘community standards.’ Imagine It’s impossible to say what’s right or wrong and how the social media giants leverage shadowban in the name of spam control. 

Yes, there are times when shadowban on social media fails. A situation wherein existing followers won’t wait to look up their feed but visit the timeline of the person they want to engage with. This happened with the Indian poet K. Satchidanandan, whose anti-BJP post that didn’t go viral prompted Facebook to delete his account. Last year, Venture Capitalist & IVF Specialist Dr. Aniruddha Malpani received similar treatment from Linkedin for being critical of Byjus. The same took place with the whistleblower Pradeep Poonia suspended by Twitter, and now his new account doesn’t have as many followers, which earlier exceeded 17.5 k.

Dear readers, we just discussed the gold standard of shadowban on social media. You might choose to disagree, asking people to build their own platform if they have to be woke. You mean 7.9 billion social media platforms; that’s rad! Also, just a thought, did you realize a fall in your engagement? Could it be a machine learning model teetering shadowban?

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