If Twitter “shadow banned” your profile today you would never know that you’re banned. However, there are some third-party websites or tools that can help users know whether their accounts are banned or hidden in searches.
Also read: Microsoft Activision Bid Shakes Gaming
Twitter has denied for years that it shadow banned accounts. But billionare owner Elon Musk revealed recently that the company is working on new software updates that show users their “true account status”, whether they are shadow banned or not and why.
The admission is significant. It illustrates the amount of power reposed in just one social media company used by ten of millions of people everyday. And how Twitter has used, or abused, that power to silence views and opinions that did not favor its cause.
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
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2022
What is a shadow ban?
A shadow ban could be described as a ban which is not a ban. Soft-touch censorship if you like. Twitter will typically block or blacklist an account in part, without actually banning it outright. A user will never know their account has been shadow banned.
The ban “may lead to less engagement with the account and low visibility of posts,” according to experts. Free Press founder Bari Weiss alleges that Twitter shadow banned some accounts to “prevent disfavored tweets from trending.”
She highlighted the account of prominent Stanford scholar Jay Bhattacharya, who argued “that Covid lockdowns would harm children.” Weiss said Twitter placed the account in a secret “Trends Blacklist,” along with several other conservative-leaning accounts.
Weiss said Twitter executives and employees refer to shadow banning as “Visibility Filtering” or “VF”. But Sachee, a former worker at Twitter, posted on the platform that VF simply means hiding content from one’s timeline. The tool is already available to users.
3. Take, for example, Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (@DrJBhattacharya) who argued that Covid lockdowns would harm children. Twitter secretly placed him on a “Trends Blacklist,” which prevented his tweets from trending. pic.twitter.com/qTW22Zh691
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) December 9, 2022
In 2018, former Twitter head of policy Vijaya Gadde denied allegations the company shadow banned accounts.
“We do not shadow ban,” Gadde wrote in a blog post. “You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
Shadow banned: How to check your Twitter account status
Twitter has not provided details about its impending software and how it will help users know whether their accounts are banned or hidden in searches. However, there are some third-party websites that can help you to do so.
Shadowban.yuzurisa.com is a free tool that allows users to check if their Twitter accounts have been restricted without their knowledge. We tested the tool. As seen in the picture below, it requires that you enter your handle into the search bar and click ‘check’.
Once done, the website will query Twitter for four areas of potential shadow bans: search suggestion ban, search ban, ghost ban and reply deboosting. The test results turn in within seconds (as seen in the picture below).
Our test results show that the username @jeffgogo3 is, at the moment, not affected by any of the four Twitter shadow bans for which we tested. A negative result would highlight the specific type of ban in red, showing users if their account is hidden in searches.
A user can repeat this process at different times of the day or week to check whether they are still on Twitter’s good side. Several accounts, including that of Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya, have found themselves on the wrong side.
How does the Shadowban Yuzurisa test work?
Yuzurisa explains that the Twitter search features several search modifiers. One such modifier is “the prefix from: which allows to search for tweets from a specific user,” it says. This is what the website uses to test for the “search” shadow ban.
“For example, when checking whether @shadowban_eu has a shadowban, we query the Twitter search for from:@shadowban_eu . If we do not find any tweets although the user has tweeted in the past, the account is subject to a search ban,” said Yuzurisa.
For the thread ban, Yuzurisa said, “when the user has a search ban, the tester searches their profile for the latest tweet with at least one reply. It then visits the direct URL of the tweet and selects some reply tweet.”
After that, “the direct URL of the reply tweet is visited. If the tweet that the user replied to is not visible, the likelihood that the account is affected by a thread shadowban is very high.” In the past, the website also tested for bans involving quality filter discrimination, or QFD.
Introduced by Twitter in May 2018 as part of the firm’s so-called healthy conversation project, QFD “caused your tweets to be invisible within the latest section of the search, including hashtags…” The filter turned on by default and would reset for each new search, it adds.
However, Yuzurisa discontinued the QFD ban test because “the quality filter seems to have no effect indeed.” However, “this is not a verification that users are not classified anymore by this algorithm. We just cannot observe it anymore through the quality filter.”
With the software upgrade promised by Elon Musk, Twitter hopes that it will provide more clarity on why accounts are shadow banned and how users can appeal the decision.