Disclaimer: Copyright infringement not intended.
- Elon Musk — Twitter’s new billionaire owner— used the term “Shadow Banning” in the context of the so-called Twitter Files, internal company documents that were released with Musk’s authorization.
What is Shadow Banning?
- Shadow banning, also identified as stealth banning, ghost banning, or commented ghosting, is the practice of blocking or partially restricting a user from a platform without their knowledge.
- Simply put, it is a 'moderation' technique that social networks are said to use to censor content. That content could be anything from a single post to an entire community.
- In this case, a particular user's posts, likes, or comments within virtual communities or on a specific social media site would be concealed from all other consumers. The user in question, on the other hand, would be unaware of this because their content would still be viewable from their own device.
What can cause a user shadow banned/unbanned?
- The criteria for becoming shadow-banned vary depending on the portal, but generally involve some degree of spamming, inappropriate behavior, or copyright infringement.
- Content that violates standard guidelines, such as glorifying terrorist organisations, impersonating others, communicating sexually explicit content involving a minor, or abuse and harassment, is easily censored by media organisations.
- Certain video games may also be shadowbanned. For example, if someone is banned from a label for cheating or using hacking tools, they may be banned again if they play on the same desktop/console.
- But it's the secrecy that distinguishes normal moderation from shadow banning. Shadow bans occur when social media sites hide, censor, or moderate content without explaining why. Social media platforms claim they do not implement shadow bans; more on this later.
What are some instances of shadow banning?
- The #shadowbanned hashtag has been viewed over 17.9 billion times on TikTok. People claimed that after posting certain content, one‘s videos no longer appear on TikTok's For You Page, the app's exploration feed, which is critical for developing the app's audience.
- According to a Vice article from 2018, Twitter had reduced the exposure of certain Republicans in search rankings. The article discovered that when specific Republican terms were typed into the search bar, the account did not appear.
Platforms using shadow banning tool:
- The vast amount of social media websites, including Craigslist, Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram, use or have used some form of shadow banning instrument at a certain point.
- The first instance of shadow banning was reported on Bulletin Board Systems forums in the mid-1980s.
- However, a practice equivalent to shadow banning was first used in the 1970s in Dungeons and Dragons text-based chat room sites known as 'Toading.' Toading, was the "act of metaphorically transforming someone into a 'toad' as a means of punishment" that rendered the user invisible to certain other players.
Is shadow banning by companies legal?
- Private companies are allowed to make their own rules about content moderation. But for advertisers, users and free speech champions, true shadow bans are problematic because they enforce unarticulated rules secretly
- They allow a company to avoid taking responsibility for moderating content while quietly manipulating its flow. And users who are silenced have no process for emerging from the shadows.
- The debates around shadow banning highlighted societal divides and the big issues plaguing tech companies handling the tsunami of online content.
- There needs to be a legislation to regulate transparency in content moderation. Some form of accountability needs to be attached to Shadow Banning.