Category Archives: Twitter

Twitter Suspended 936 China-Linked Accounts



Twitter disclosed that it has suspended accounts for violations of its platform management policies. Those accounts include a “state-backed information operation focused on the situation on Hong Kong”, as well as spam accounts.

This disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protest.

Twitter stated that Twitter is blocked in PRC, and many of the accounts that were suspended were using VPNs. Some accounts access Twitter from specific unlocked iP addresses that originated in mainland China. The accounts Twitter shared today “represent the most active portions of this campaign; a larger, spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts – many created following initial suspensions – were proactively suspended before they were substantially active on the service.”

Some of the violations that resulted in a ban include:

  • Spam
  • Coordinated activity
  • Fake accounts
  • Attributed activity
  • Ban evasion

Twitter is adding archives containing complete Tweet and user information for the 936 accounts they have disclosed to their archive of information operations. The archive is the largest of its kind in the industry.

It bothers me that Twitter is so easy to use by those who wish to manipulate public opinion regarding significant politically-related matters. Doing so seems very mean-spirited and deceitful. There is something about Twitter that attracts nefarious people to use it in ways that were not intended (or allowed).


Twitter Tests Letting Users Follow Topics



Twitter is in the process of letting users follow topics in a similar way to how they already follow accounts. According to The Verge, the feature is not quite live yet. When it goes live, users will be able to follow topics like sports teams, celebrities, and television shows. A selection of tweets of topics that are of interest to you will appear alongside tweets in your home feed.

Topics will be curated by Twitter, with individual tweets being identified through machine learning rather than editorial curation, the company said. For now, only sports-related interests can be followed, said Rob Bishop, a Twitter product manager. The feature is now being tested on Android.

The Verge reported that Twitter made this announcement at an event with reporters, which probably explains why I can’t find anything official about it on Twitter’s accounts or its blog. I’m going to assume Twitter will issue a press release, or something with more details about this change, soon.

From what I can tell, there are some cool things about being able to follow topics. You can mute topics. So, for example, if you followed a topic about a specific sport, but the information isn’t about your team right now, you can mute it. The Verge reported that people can mute TV show topics – to avoid spoilers.

Overall, it sounds like Twitter is trying something different that could, potentially, reduce the toxic polarization that Twitter is currently full of. If Twitter makes it easier to find things users enjoy, perhaps this will influence people to be nicer to each other.


Twitter Adds New Notice to Rule Breaking Tweets of Public Officials



Twitter has finally come up with a plan to deal with the tweets of government officials and political figures who post content that breaks Twitter’s rules. It involves a new notice attached to the tweet that will provide additional clarity. Twitter will not remove those tweets, or suspend the account (in most cases).

Twitter explained it’s reasoning this way:

Serving the public conversation includes providing the ability for anyone to talk about what matters to them; this can be especially important when engaging with government officials and political figures. By nature of their positions, these leaders have outsized influence and sometimes say things that could be considered controversial or invite debate and discussion. A critical function of our service is providing a place where people can openly and publicly respond to their leaders and hold them accountable.

The new notice will apply to tweets from the following criteria:

  • Be or represent a government official, be running for office, or be considered for a government position (i.e., next in line, awaiting confirmation, named successor to an appointed position)
  • Have more than 100,000 followers;
  • Be verified

Twitter points out there are cases, such as direct threats of violence or calls to commit violence against an individual, that are unlikely to be considered in the public interest. The implication is that Twitter might actually remove those kinds of tweets, or perhaps suspend the account.

Here is what Twitter’s Trust and Safety, Legal, Public Policy, and regional teams will consider before adding the new notice to a tweet:

  • The immediacy and severity of potential harm from the rule violation, with an emphasis on ensuring physical safety;
  • Whether preserving a Tweet will allow others to hold the government official, candidate for public office, or appointee accountable for their statements;
  • Whether there are other sources of information about this statement available for the public to stay informed;
  • If removal would inadvertently hide context or prevent people from understanding an issue of public concern; and
  • If the Tweet provides a unique context or perspective not available elsewhere that is necessary to a broader discussion.

When a tweet has a notice placed on it, it will feature less prominently on Twitter. It will not longer appear in: Safe search, Timeline when switched to Top Tweets, Live event pages, Recommend Tweet push notifications, Notifications tab, or Explore.

It is worth noting that the new notice will not be applied to any tweets that were posted before today.

Personally, I am interested in seeing how the new notice will be used. I expect that some Twitter users will feel like the notice doesn’t go far enough towards cleaning up Twitter, while others will complain that the new notice is “shadow banning” or “censorship”.


Twitter is Questioning if Nazis Belong on Twitter



Twitter has started conducing in-house research in an effort to better understand how white nationalists and white supremacists use Twitter. According to Vice, Twitter is trying to decide whether those groups should be banned from Twitter, or if they should be allowed to stay so their views can be debated by others.

Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, legal and public policy, said Twitter believes “counter-speech and conversation are a force for good, and they can act as a basis for de-radicalization, and we’ve seen that happen on other platforms, anecdotally.”

“So one of the things we’re working with academics on is some research here to confirm that this is the case,” she added.

Vice reported that the idea that “counter-speech” can counteract white supremacy specifically on Twitter is one that academics are skeptical of. Vice spoke with Becca Lewis, who researches networks on far right influencers on social media for the nonprofit Data & Society, and Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. Both said that Twitter’s platform makes that very unlikely.

Part of the reason is because changing someone’s mind requires engaging in good-faith conversations. Twitter is simply not a good environment for that. Instead, Twitter is often used for brigading. People also make bots and sock puppet accounts specifically to harass people.

I find it strange that Twitter is considering allowing white nationalists and white supremacists to remain on their platform. It is abundantly clear that most people don’t want those groups around. For example, every time Twitter announces a new feature, several users respond with “Great! Now ban the Nazis!”


Twitter Launched a Prototype App Called twttr



Twitter announced the launch of twttr, a prototype app that will allow users to test out new features before those features go live. The purpose of twttr is to enable users to advise Twitter about how to make conversations easier to read, understand, and join.

Those who want to apply to the Twitter Prototype Program can fill out an application form. There are three questions to answer. What kind of device do you primarily use to access Twitter? What primary language(s) do you speak and write? What country do you live in? Twitter will send an email to people who filled out the application form.

To me, the twttr prototype app sounds like a way for Twitter to beta test new features. I’m familiar with video game companies allowing players to opt-in for the opportunity to be invited to alpha test, or beta test, upcoming expansions. This is the first time Twitter has attempted to obtain user feedback before launching a new feature.

TechCrunch points out that twttr was Twitter’s original name. TechCrunch reported that the app will focus on conversations. It will have a different format for replies, with a more rounded chat-like shape. Different types of replies will be color-coded to designate those from the original poster and users you personally follow.

Here is an opportunity for Twitter users to have their thoughts and opinions about a new feature be heard by Twitter. Those who opt-in to twttr, and are invited, will be able to shape upcoming features. Personally, I’m considering checking this out and providing feedback regarding accessibility.


Twitter Says Foreign Efforts to Influence 2018 U.S. Elections was “Limited”



Twitter has released a 2018 U.S. Midterm Retrospective Review, which can be downloaded and viewed. It was accompanied by a blog post by Carlos Monje Jr., Twitter’s Director of Public Policy.

The 2018 U.S. midterm elections were the most tweeted-about midterm election in history. More than 99 million tweets were sent from the first primaries in March through Election Day. Most of these tweets were people sharing their views about candidates and policies.

One really good thing that came out of discussion about the midterm election on Twitter was that people encouraged “friends, family, and complete strangers” to vote. Twitter worked with non-governmental organizations like RockTheVote, Democracy Works, TurboVote Challenge, HeadCount, DoSomething, and Ballotpedia to promote voter registration.

Personally, I think that is fantastic! Democracy works best when everyone who is eligible to vote actually takes the time to do it. It is nice to see that Twitter used it’s power for good in this situation.

Not everything on Twitter that was related to the midterms was positive, however. Twitter took action on nearly 6,000 tweets that they identified as attempted voter suppression, “much of which originated right here in the United States”. Unfortunately, that means that some people who live in the United States used Twitter to spread false information about voting or registering to vote. That’s just sad.

Twitter stated: “In contrast to 2016, we identified much less platform manipulation from bad-faith actors located abroad.” Twitter found limited operations that had the potential to be connected with Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. Twitter clarifies that “the majority of these accounts were proactively suspended in advance of Election Day” due to their internal tools for identifying platform manipulation.

The “take away” from this is clear. There is an ongoing threat from people in foreign countries that want to use Twitter to influence the outcome of American elections. Twitter appears to be making progress on suspending those accounts.

The bigger threat, though, is from Americans who used Twitter to engage in attempted voter suppression. Twitter said the number of “problematic examples” of that were “relatively small”. I think that Twitter users can help make that number smaller if they report tweets that have misinformation about election day, polling place locations, or where and how to register to vote.


Twitter Released a Sparkle Icon



Twitter has released a sparkle icon that you can tap to switch between the latest and top Tweets in your timeline. It is currently available on iOS, and will be coming soon to Android.

BuzzFeed News reported that users on iOS can tap a new icon (represented by the sparkle emoji) in the top-right hand corner of the Twitter app to see the most recent tweets in their timeline. This is more efficient than having to go into settings to switch between algorithmic and reverse-chronological timelines.

Twitter is intending to remove the settings option that allowed users to fully opt out of “top tweets.” The default timeline view (algorithm) is called “Home”. The reverse-chronological timeline is called “Latest Tweets”.

I think Twitter made a good decision to give users the option to see reverse-chronological tweets in their timeline. I find it annoying to have tweets be posted out of chronological order. It makes it harder for me to figure out what people are talking about.

Personally, the feature I’d most like to see Twitter add is one that would entirely remove all the accounts I’ve blocked from my view. It is obvious that Twitter’s system is aware of which accounts I’ve blocked. Why can’t it use that information to filter out those accounts when I look at a trending topic or a popular hashtag?

The sparkle icon that puts my timeline in reverse-chronological order will appease me for now, and I will start using it. But, I’m going to need more than “sparkle” to improve my Twitter experience.