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Paradigm shift

Why Right may be wrong on Twitter

Twitter admitted that it has been profiling its users, monitoring them actively through artificial intelligence, ranking them, restricting them and also making them 'disappear' at times.

 |  Paradigm shift  |  9-minute read |   13-09-2018
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On July 26, 2018, US President Donald Trump declared war on Twitter from his Twitter account.

trump_091318101840.jpgUS President Donald Trump is fighting Twitter on Twitter. (Source: Reuters)

He accused Twitter of shadow banning prominent Republican handles and threatened to launch an investigation. Here is his angry tweet below.

Twitter had already responded by then. Their co-founder Jack Dorsey tweeted and clarified that shadow banning is a myth and it doesn't happen in their company. 

His PR department was activated, he and his hand-picked team went on a press merry-go-round, trying to explain the situation. His senior employees wrote blogs and gave interviews, trying to prove their own country's President wrong.

Unfortunately, in the process, they revealed more than what they could conceal.

They not only exposed a faulty methodology, very soon, everybody's worst fears took shape.

Twitter admitted that it has been profiling its users, monitoring them actively through artificial intelligence, ranking them, restricting them and also making them 'disappear' at times. The way and the logic behind the profiling was never revealed.

We will come back to all that later, but first, let's address the immediate question in your mind.

"Come on, that's the US. How do you know it's happening in India?" 

The fact is that like any US-based MNC, the chunk of the company's policies are decided at their headquarters. So, most of the policies that were formulated in the US headquarters were applied all over the world including India.

I am prepared to take a bet with you.

Let's bet a hundred rupees with each of you. I know that tens of thousands read my pieces, so its not a mean sum that I am willing to pay. 

I am so confident of the odds because I know in my heart that it is true that Twitter handles belonging to the right wing political ideology are treated no better than the Republicans in the US.

Many prominent Twitter handles belonging to the right wing feel that many of their followers (the figure might be in lakhs for each one of them) don't get to see their tweets in their timeline. The complaint is the same and many among them have tweeted about it too. 

Time and again, you will see some prominent right wingers in India wonder why their tweets are not visible to their followers or the followers wonder why they don't see some prominent right wing tweets on their timelines, even though they are tweeting regularly. They have to go to their profiles to see their tweets.

This is not the only question that has baffled Twitter users. There are others too. Here are some other sample questions from right wingers and their supporters. Maybe you might identify with some of them.

1) Why does Twitter immediately lock down some people as 'punishment' — and why does it allow some people to post freely, even if they are using the same kind of language and content?

swara-690_091318102849.jpgDouble Standards: Twitter allows certain people to post freely; others find their accounts locked down immediately. (Source: India Today)

2) Why some prominent users never get too many retweets or impressions or why are these (interactions on tweets) decreasing over a period of time?

3) Why do some users increasingly feel isolated while others feel that they are thriving on Twitter? Is there discrimination?

4) Is it true that users are profiled according to their political views or, specifically, right wingers are given the wrong end of the stick on Twitter?

5) Does Twitter profile its users? If yes, what do they do next? 

In today's blog, I wanted to clarify all these rumours based on the content that has surfaced on the internet from Twitter employees themselves. 

Chances are you may have missed spotting these despite the declarations coming from Twitter employees themselves. 

So, here's the truth along with proof. 

Read on.

Truth number 1: Twitter Employees are left-leaning in their ideology and have a strong bias towards the left political narrative. 

This admission has come from no less than the CEO and co-founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey.  

jackey-dorsey-690_091318103041.jpgJack Dorsey's admission of Twitter's lean towards the Left has created a controversy. (Source: Reuters)

In an interview with CNN, Jack admitted that their employees are biased towards left ideology. The mention is made in the passing, but he says it in a very straightforward manner. 

So, Twitter management — and the team that controls you as users — are effectively subscribing to left ideology. 

Here's the video of Jack's admission to CNN.

All over the world, across political landscapes, the left and the right are at loggerheads. Most propaganda from the left targets the right wing. 

So, there goes the neutrality of the platform.

Truth Number 2: There are some evolving policies about profiling Twitter users that are never discussed in public.

This admission too comes from Twitter employees. 

On January 11 this year, Project Veritas published an undercover investigation about Twitter that showed their senior employees admitting that they restrict users based on their tweets — they admitted that political ideology is one of the major factors of the profiling. One of the employees also admitted that left-leaning conversations sometimes go on unchecked because they are profiled as "good boys". 

The employees were also seen admitting in the undercover video that they use Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to profile users based on their tweets and replies. Employees admitted that political ideology is an important factor of the profiling and shockingly, left is right for Twitter.

The more aggressive (or abusive) an user is, the more a person is ranked lower.

Also, they work towards an inform user experience, which basically means to give more prominence to users that they feel deserve it.

The question is: If you are left-leaning, which user would you prefer?

They also admitted that some users are thrown off the search grid just because the platform may look clean. 

The video was published on Youtube but it didn't get the kind of attention it deserved.

Here's the video below.

Interesting to note that the admissions are coming from code-writers who actually do it and not some senior management folk. 

Take a look and prepare to get shocked. Twitter hasn't denied that the employees who are featured are their own.

 

Truth number three: Twitter also admits that they rank Twitter users based on their "behaviour"

Yes, they are playing Big Boss with you and apparently punishing you for being naughty or having a divergent view.

Yes, Twitter has itself admitted that behaviour is the key element on which Twitter decides how you should be treated on the platform.  

But have they clarified exactly which behaviour will make you look like a "bad-faith actor" (Twitter's own term) and what makes you look like a influencer? Yes, a little. It has said that if you interact with known abusive handles, if you get blocked by some prominent people, if you reply aggressively (or abusively) to other 'good' handles and if you get reported by good-faith users, then your "Quality Score" will get affected and you will be treated as somebody who needs to be restricted. 

Did somebody just remind you of school? 

Sounds unbelievable?

Well, the Twitter management has admitted that in writing. 

Read this blog posted by Twitter's Vice President (Trust and Safety), Del Harvey and David Gasca, Director of Product Management and Health. This blog was subsequently endorsed by the Product Head of Twitter, Kayvon Beykpour. 

Now for the left-leaning organisation, is this possible that left-leaners may get a free run on the platform and right wingers are dubbed as people with "bad faith"? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Truth number four: If you are ranked below, your tweets are ranked far, far below. 

We don't need to cite an example here. There are too many.  

We just need to understand how the ranking system works to understand why your tweets vanish from certain timelines. 

For any mobile user (more than 90 per cent tweets in India are checked on the mobile platform), the first three to five scrolls are very important because that is what arrests your attention. Twitter supports unending scroll but none of the users will scroll like that. You basically scroll three to five times on an average before Twitter refreshes your feed again. 

So, what happens when your tweet is ranked adversely or below? 

tweet-690_091318104950.jpgThe first three to five scrolls are very important as that is what arrests your attention. (Source: Reuters)

That's right, people who have tweeted during the same time period (or even later) will find their tweets ranked below others, sometimes put much below than five scrolls. So, even before you can reach that tweet, Twitter refreshes your feed with fresh tweets.

This creates an illusion that your tweets have vanished from the feed of your followers but in reality, it has been ranked much below, so below that it takes an active effort to fight against auto feed refreshes to reach to your tweet.

Truth number five: Twitter listens to signals which includes "good" handles screaming that you are bad.

In algorithm, they call it 'signals'. Signals are typically a tune in a sea of white noise, easy to detect and locate.

Twitter uses various signals to rank users (you may go back to the video again) or look at this thread from Twitter safety.

The 'signals' about some users are too many in India to ignore and they have not gone unheard. 

Have you seen one of these lists floating around about the abusive handles on Twitter? And the ones that list only prominent right wing users as abusive? I bet you've seen some of them, right? That may be considered as one of the signals by Twitter''s own admission.

If you want to do your sample study or verify it yourself, I suggest you go to each one of the right wing users and ask if they feel if they are getting shadow blocked on the platform or the impressions that they get on their tweets are just lessening by the day. 

There, you have your answer. 

May I have my money now?

Also read: Why Facebook using AI to take down offensive memes is a step in the right direction

 

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