- - Wednesday, August 1, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s no exaggeration to say the social media platform Twitter has changed the world, with massive potential to spread news and mobilize support.

But it’s not perfect.

Conservatives have long expressed concern that they were being targeted by Twitter’s operators, their views quietly suppressed. Now there’s fresh evidence that they were right.

Recently, Vice revealed that Twitter was “shadow-banning” high-profile Republicans, including Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and prominent conservative lawmakers, such as Republican Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Matt Gaetz of Florida. Specifically, their Twitter accounts were not appearing in search when users typed in their names.

Is Twitter covertly suppressing conservative voices?

The platform fixed the issue quickly, but only added to the confusion by releasing a statement denying that anyone had been shadow-banned and certainly not based on “political viewpoints or ideology.”

“We do not shadow-ban,” the company said. “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).”

If I understand this rightly, Twitter’s overseers does not “shadow-ban,” but they do make you “do more work” to find conservative accounts you might want to follow.

Here’s a radical concept: Can we not leave the search function alone and allow it to do what it is supposed to do, without ridiculous interference?

I liked Twitter better when you could follow accounts and then have the posts from those accounts appear on your timeline. That was simple. That was what Twitter users thought they were getting.

Now Twitter is apparently making it possible for a user to follow accounts but never see tweets from those accounts unless they specifically search for them. What, then, is the point of following those accounts in the first place?

Now I am not saying government must step in to solve this. Government overregulation of technology can stifle innovation and create inefficiencies. But Congress should continue to explore whether the major social media platforms have it in for conservatives, solely because of their political views.

If that turns out to be so, let the free market dole out the punishment.

If conservatives feel unwelcome or targeted, Twitter’s stock price, advertising revenue and growth rates all will take a hit.

But “shadow-banning” is not the only concern related to Twitter.

Recently, the company announced that it was blocking thousands of “malicious” apps from the platform, giving no explanation. This is where Congress should be asking some hard questions to help the public get answers.

We only recently learned that Twitter is now requiring app developers to register and proceed through a review before being granted access to the platform. When I saw this, my first thought was: What did they do before this? Were developers accessing private information for millions of users without any review before that access was given? Facebook has had an app review process in place since 2014. Can Twitter really have been four years behind Facebook?

Twitter users must accept that the company will manage its platform however it wants to, with user growth and profitability in mind. This has led to increased use of algorithms, which serve users with content they are more likely to engage with, rather than chronological content.

I am all for preventing vulgarity, racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism from appearing on these platforms.

Twitter users must agree to the terms of service and it is reasonable that a private company can punish users if they violate the terms of service. But shouldn’t users be notified if they have violated the terms of service?

At its best, Twitter is a great platform that allows us to rapidly share news and information and easily engage with people around the world. I wish it would go back to doing what most of its users expect it to do.

Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His “Mack on Politics” podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on WashingtonTimes.com.


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