Shadowbanning Is Big Tech’s Big Problem

Essay by Gabriel Nicholas: “Sometimes, it feels like everyone on the internet thinks they’ve been shadowbanned. Republican politicians have been accusing Twitter of shadowbanning—that is, quietly suppressing their activity on the site—since at least 2018, when for a brief period, the service stopped autofilling the usernames of Representatives Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, and Matt Gaetz, as well as other prominent Republicans, in its search bar. Black Lives Matter activists have been accusing TikTok of shadowbanning since 2020, when, at the height of the George Floyd protests, it sharply reduced how frequently their videos appeared on users’ “For You” pages. …When the word shadowban first appeared in the web-forum backwaters of the early 2000s, it meant something more specific. It was a way for online-community moderators to deal with trolls, shitposters, spam bots, and anyone else they deemed harmful: by making their posts invisible to everyone but the posters themselves. But throughout the 2010s, as the social web grew into the world’s primary means of sharing information and as content moderation became infinitely more complicated, the word became more common, and much more muddled. Today, people use shadowban to refer to the wide range of ways platforms may remove or reduce the visibility of their content without telling them….

According to new research I conducted at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), nearly one in 10 U.S. social-media users believes they have been shadowbanned, and most often they believe it is for their political beliefs or their views on social issues. In two dozen interviews I held with people who thought they had been shadowbanned or worked with people who thought they had, I repeatedly heard users say that shadowbanning made them feel not just isolated from online discourse, but targeted, by a sort of mysterious cabal, for breaking a rule they didn’t know existed. It’s not hard to imagine what happens when social-media users believe they are victims of conspiracy…(More)”.