Twitter and the SPN Family: Fighting the Shadows

by Cynthia Hill (@8thCyn)

There’s a problem in social media, and it’s nothing to do with Facebook, Russians or elections.

Supposedly in an attempt to catch bots and cyber scams, Twitter has been using something commonly referred to as a “shadow ban.” A shadow ban is when your account is still active, but suddenly your replies and likes don’t go anywhere: the person you’re trying to talk to never gets a notification, or perhaps only gets a mobile push notification that, if missed, disappears in an instant, never to be seen again.

They aren’t new: they’ve been around for several years. From the best information I could find, it’s not done by human hands, but accounts are caught in an algorithm that picks up the use of too many of the same hashtag, repeated tweets saying the exact same (or almost the same) thing, posting too many links, responding to only a few people, or “liking” or replying too quickly. All of those are supposed to be potential signs of a bot. The idea seems to be that a legitimate person will understand, and change their behavior, while a bot will not.

But here’s the problem with that theory: shadow bans aren’t supposed to exist. There is nothing in the Twitter help menu about it, they will not respond to questions regarding it. So it’s next to impossible for a legitimate human account to know how to change their ways to make Twitter’s automatons happy.

In the past year or so I’ve become actively involved with the fandom surrounding the television show Supernatural, known amongst themselves as the “SPN Family.” And despite some of the infighting that happens in any fandom group, overall I’ve found them to be extremely supportive and really deserving of the “family” name.

I can’t say for certain why it is, as there are a multitude of possible reasons, but it does seem like many in the SPN Family are dealing with various mental health issues, and are more willing than most to discuss it openly, and as such, social media such as Twitter have provided a life line for many.

However, in the past few weeks it seems like the SPN Family has been hit – and HARD – by shadow banning. No one knows why exactly, and no one knows why some get unbanned, and then almost immediately get hit again. Some are freed in a day or two, some are still banned weeks after they first discovered it.

And no one outside of our little family is talking about it.

The shadow banning has brought out the best in the SPN Family – they’ve drawn together, created Twitter lists to be able to still “see” each other a little more easily, started group DM chats for those shadow banned to still have contact with their support system. But it shouldn’t be happening. AT ALL. Twitter is supposed to be a “social” media, and while this banning is happening, they are afraid to even interact for fear of “infecting” someone else. They worry that they can’t support the show they love in its quest for social media ratings. They are talking about leaving Twitter entirely. Despite all best efforts to keep people’s spirits up, they are feeling isolated, and alone, and depressed. And Twitter won’t even acknowledge the problem.

I went online, looking for some kind of article – anything that would talk about what was happening. But there was nothing. So this is my attempt to shine a little bit of light into the shadows, so that maybe someone with enough influence will be able to get our SPN Family some help from above. Of course, that’s if we’re not all too scared to share the link in the first place.

Originally posted:

Busted, Grounded and Sent to Your Room...Yep, You've Been Shadow Banned by Twitter

by Doris Helmick

I'm relatively new to Twitter. My perspective on "shadow banning" comes from "outside the fold", so to speak, and in order to do justice to the task set before me by the Boss, I had to do some, "imagine a Deanesque shudder" research. And, as I did do the research, I beg your indulgence for the presentation of what that research revealed. Trust me, this part will be brief.

According to that unimpeachable source, and provider of all knowledge regarding, well...everything, Wikipedia offered this definition:

"Shadow banning (also called stealth banning, ghost banning or comment ghosting[1]) is the act of blocking a user or their content from an online community such that the user does not realize that they have been banned.

"By making a user's contributions invisible or less prominent to other members of the service, the hope is that in the absence of reactions to their comments, the problematic user will become bored or frustrated and leave the site.[1][2]"

The practice of shadow banning did not originate with Twitter and it's been in use by several social media groups for, at the very least, 12 years. In the years since it was first used as a means to cause a blogger or other social media user to "self deport", it would appear to have evolved into a rather petty, unreasonable, critter of nasty temperament and randomized nastiness. It also appears to be controlled by the feeble minded offspring created by a liaison between Social Media giant, Twitter, and its oxymoronic lover, Art(ificial) Intelligence, a glitched up mess called Al(gorithim).

In the simplest terms:

The shadow banned individual is singled out for any number of ridiculous reasons, known only to the deep, dark heart of Twitter's Al(gorithim) and virtually nothing is viewable to that person's followers, nor does the "banee" receive notifications from followers. Banning can last from 24 hours to an indefinite period of time. In the vaguest of responses, Twitter lists "too frequent personal, original content tweeting, retweeting too often, and 'liking' too many tweets in a relatively short period of time. In other words, using Twitter as it was designed to be used-thus the oxymoronic component. TPTB also mention the use of inappropriate language, graphic depictions of violence, posts exceeding societal or community standards....yada...yada...yada...Sounds reasonable?

One: users who do none of the forbidden activities are banned, and given no real or reasonable cause for having been summarily punished: busted, grounded and sent to their rooms. Two: users who swear like sailors on a 24-hour shore leave following 6 months at sea, folks who post near pornographic photos of parts we'd rather not see, and debate the relative merits of subjects better left to publications catering to the harshest aspects of Sadists R Us Monthly, seem to be unharassed and unpunished. This does not seem fair, and in truth, is supportive of the aforementioned, Al(gorithim) and random acts of nastiness. There are suggestions of political motivation. Though there appears to be some basis for this, due to the large numbers of banned individuals from these groups, the only thing Twitter gets right, if such is the case, is that the banning follows a bipartisan path. Yay...

To be honest, I don't support censorship. I do support abiding by a set of standards common to a specific community. Having said that, I also expect implementation of a fairness doctrine across the board. In no way, shape or form am I seeing fairness in the manner in which Twitter is vomiting out shadow bans at a rate of multiple "WTH"s/per second.

On a more serious note, however, I suggest that these bannings have much darker consequences than one might expect...unless one is inhabiting an egocentric vacuum. Since its inception, Supernatural has taken an approach supportive of mental health advocacy and crisis management; extensive charitable outreach; humanitarian aid and disaster relief. The acronyms, AKF; YANA; TWLOHA; RA, are well known and well regarded. There are several Twitter groups dedicated to fulfilling the promises inherent in such outreach, offering resource distribution, encouragement and other services to those living under the burden of depression. They also stand in the gap for those recovering from substance abuse, those living with or attempting to escape from domestic abuse. They serve as a conduit of love, hope, and healing. And personally, they have been my lifeline as I have coped with my own devastating losses, isolation and grief. As a full time caregiver for my husband for nearly 9 years, my world shrank into a miniscule sphere of loneliness. Twitter was my reintroduction to the world at large and to a greater extent, the , as feisty and loving a family as any found in RL! The banning of leaders from among these groups may have potentially devastating outcomes. Not cool Twitter...definitely NOT cool!

So, how do we protect ourselves from suffering banishment? I'm reminded of Elmer Fudd's hunting advice; the paraphrased version, "Be vewy, vewy quiet and careful not to piss off TPTB."

1. Watch your %#&*×$€ language, y'all.
2. Watch out for the excessive tagging "gotchas" that can get your butt banned posthaste!
3. Careful with the volume of tweets & retweets.
4. Just be perfect...Thought i'd throw that one in for spits and jiggles(see how I followed rule #1)

And how do we care for our banned brothers and sisters?

1. Check in daily...on their personal profile pages.
2. Encourage each other just as you do every day.
3. Tweet their tweets and or messages in their name.
4. Advocate with TPTB in their behalf. And finally (whew, this has been long winded) stay strong, stay connected, be the family we say we are. And tweet the h-e-double-hockey sticks out of this.

One more thing... is dedicated to promoting core values of acceptance, fierce loyalty, family, and inclusiveness over exclusiveness. This long winded article is a device dedicated to those values. Thanks, Carol, for inviting me in and for trusting me with this.

Doris Helmick 3/27/2018