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A fact-checker gets shadow-banned on Twitter, again. This is a worrying trend

'Trollabhakt', a self-proclaimed 'Fake Trends Hunter', has been ghosted by the social media platform.

 |  4-minute read |   18-10-2017
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Fact-checkers and hoax-busters in this age of fake news are the Good Samaritans. Without them, the government’s propaganda about a happy economic rollercoaster and the xenophobic, Islamophobic bigotry of the far-Right will reach the masses unchecked, furthering the existing state of polarisation in this country. It is for these very reasons that fact-checkers are looked upon by those in power as public enemy number one.

Thus, when a Twitter account that has, on a regular basis, called out manufactured outrage and trends on social media, suddenly gets "ghosted", things look suspicious. It would seem that an anonymous Twitter account called “@trollabhakt” whose name on the website is “Fake Trends Hunter” has been ghosted by Twitter. Those who visit this Twitter account are greeted with the message, “Caution: This account is temporarily restricted. You are seeing this warning because there has been some unusual activity from this account.”

haxor_101817044234.jpgPhoto: Wikimedia Commons

For those who don’t know, shadow-banning, stealth-banning, ghost-banning or ghosting is the act of blocking users from an online community in such a way that the users do not realise that they have been banned. While shadow-banning has been a common practice on several public forums like Reddit, Twitter is a little late to the party. BuzzFeed News reported in February about Twitter’s "new anti-harassment initiative" that throttles the reach of tweets.

Twitter temporarily prevents tweets from users they categorise as "abusive" from being displayed to people who don't follow them, thereby effectively reducing their reach. For all intents and purposes, the account is muted from all those who don’t follow it.

Shadow-banning is an effective tool to curtail harassment and abuse, and it is usually left to local moderators to decide if rules and community etiquettes are being flouted, and if these indiscretions deserve ghosting. Of course, this very technique turns problematic when it is used to silence voices calling out the Centre’s social media policies.

Several Twitter users expressed their concerns over this development.

Some even insinuated that the ruling BJP government may have had something to do with this.

This is not the first time something like this has happened though.

In September this year, “scores of Kashmiri activists” received emails from Twitter’s legal division, stating “official correspondence” about their Twitter accounts being in violation of Indian law, particularly Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Several of these Kashmiri activists then found themselves either blocked or shadow-banned.

According to multiple reports, Twitter had received complaints from the government of India, asking it to block hundreds of accounts and tweets that have been found “propagating objectionable content”.

It’s not just Kashmir related posts and accounts that are finding themselves stealth-banned. James Wilson, an internet activist, a vocal opponent of demonetisation, Aadhaar and government digital leashing, who has myth-busted several demonetisation-related claims of the Modi government, too had his Twitter account shadow-banned.

The motives are all too easy to guess.

Also read - Muslim boy jailed in UP for Facebook post shows why Section 66A must never come back

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