Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is considering legal action against Twitter’s censorship of four prominent conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives.
“For several months, people have been contacting me, saying, ‘Hey, I tried finding you on Twitter and I couldn’t find your account, why is that?'” Nunes told host Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Nunes said Twitter doesn’t “call it shadow-banning, but effectively we were being caught up in some kind of trap, where people couldn’t find our Twitter feed.”
Besides himself, Nunes said the Twitter accounts of Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) were somehow being made inaccessible. Gaetz has filed a complaint on the issue with the FEC. The FEC could hit Twitter with fines or other consequences if it finds merit in the Gaetz complaint.
“I don’t know what Twitter is up to, but it sure looks to me like they are censoring people and they ought to stop it, and we’re looking at any legal remedies that we can go through,” Nunes said.
Nunes comments followed a July 26 post on Twitter’s company blog, in which two spokesmen denied their firm is in the business of censoring tweets based on political viewpoints.
The spokesmen were themselves responding to a July 25 Vice report that “Twitter is limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans in search results … in what it says is a side effect of its attempts to improve the quality of discourse on the platform.”
Vice also said it found that “Democrats are not being ‘shadow-banned’ in the same way.”
Twitter defines shadow-banning as “deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster,” according to Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour, writing on the company’s blog.
The Twitter spokesmen denied their company censors, saying, “We do not shadow-ban. 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.”
Gadde and Beykpour said Twitter had recently “identified an issue where some accounts weren’t auto-suggested in search even when people were searching for their specific name.” Hundreds of thousands of Twitter accounts were affected by the issue, but they included both Democrats and Republicans.
There are, however, two important “buts” in Twitter’s denial that it censors. First, the company seeks to “address bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or detract from healthy conversation.”
Bad-faith actors, according to Twitter, are those “who intend to manipulate or divide the conversation” and who “should be ranked lower.” Gadde did not respond to LifeZette’s request for the names of those presently on the bad-faith actors list.
Second, for much of 2018, Twitter executives have been on a widely publicized campaign to improve the public communications “health” of their company. The campaign culminated Monday with announcement of new measures designed to “measure healthy conversation.”
The measures include a mix of concrete technical steps and the introduction of an extremely opaque process to deal with “echo chambers and uncivil discourse.” Echo chambers “form when discussions involve only like-minded people and perspectives, can increase hostility and promote resentment towards those not having the same conversation,” Twitter said.
The announcement did not explain how Twitter would decide if a particular group consisting of people who share a passion for, say, democratic socialism is an echo chamber or merely a political discussion forum.
Regarding uncivil discourse, Twitter said that, while incivility “breaks norms of politeness … it can also serve important functions in political dialog. In contrast, intolerant discourse — such as hate speech, racism, and xenophobia — is inherently threatening to democracy. Consequently, Twitter is “developing algorithms that distinguish between these two behaviors.”
It remains unclear, though, if Twitter considers, for example, a recent tweet by an Oregon Democratic congressional candidate as merely uncivil or intolerant discourse. In the tweet, Democrat Mark Roberts “joked” that first lady Melania Trump “works by the hour.”
Since “hate speech” is widely defined by liberals to include almost anything associated with nonliberal or conservative opinion, Twitter’s claim it does not censor based on political viewpoints could easily become problematic.