Twitter admitted Monday it goofed in blocking content of a conservative commentator last week — though the company suggested it was an error, not a policy.
Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist and owner of a Twitter account with more than 160,000 followers, says he ran into the situation after publishing a transcript of former anti-Trump FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
His tweet was still visible to him, but apparently not to any of his followers — what he called a “shadow ban.”
He said he had to re-publish the transcripts, which detailed Ms. Page’s testimony to Congress that her former lover, fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok, had impeachment on his mind when he took a job with the special counsel’s office investigating President Trump.
After Mr. Davis’s complaints online, and an inquiry to Twitter from The Washington Times, the social media giant said Monday it got things wrong —though it didn’t describe why.
“Our priority is to keep people safe on Twitter. As part of that work, we err on the side of protecting people and sometimes mistakenly remove content that doesn’t break our rules,” the company said in a note Mr. Davis posted online. “When those mistakes happen, we work quickly to fix them.”
A source familiar with Twitter’s operations confirmed the fix to The Times.
In response to questions, Twitter reiterated the company, “does not engage in bias and we categorically do not enforce so-called ‘shadow banning’ tactics. Period.”
The company says it reserves the right to remove content it considers objectionable, and to suspend or ban users that violate its stated rules, although critics contend both prongs are easily manipulated by political bias.
“We enforce the Twitter rules dispassionately and equally for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation,” the company said.
But some observers said the number of hiccups involving conservative users has become too noticeable to ignore.
Indeed, California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes hit Twitter and some of its users with a $250 million lawsuit Monday, accusing the platform of shadow banning him and other conservatives during the 2018 elections, while also refusing to police libelous and defamatory attacks.
Mr. Nunes alleged in state court in Virginia that Twitter has taken a hands-off approach to scurrilous content directed at conservatives because the company has no problem with users going after Republican lawmakers.
Twitter is liable for damages because, in both its shadow banning and the permission it grants to those launching defamatory content against conservatives, the company clearly behaves like a publisher rather than a neutral platform, Mr. Nunes’ lawsuit contends.
“There are so many anecdotes now it reaches a critical mass and becomes evidence,” said Matt Mackowiak, president of the Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican shop. “I think the patience with the platforms has worn thin on both sides. If the platform companies wanted federal regulators to come in and police them I don’t know that they’d be doing anything differently.”
“Shadow banning” is a method through which Twitter limits the audience for a user’s tweets.
“I haven’t seen them ban a lot of liberals,” Mr. Mackowiak said.
Like other establishment Republicans, Mr. Mackowiak is loath to request a federal regulatory thumb on a private business, but at this point he says it is obvious the social media behemoths are functioning much more like publishers than neutral platforms.
The internet giants are certainly aware of louder rumblings in favor of regulation. For example, last week Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, now running for president, put up ads on Facebook calling for the breakup of Facebook, Google and Amazon like old-fashioned monopolies.
Facebook swiftly removed the ads from its platform, and then relented, saying it made a mistake after public backlash against its move.