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crowdsourced censorship: the twitter reputation wars
bullying the bluebirds with bots and blocklists
twitter recently released the source code to its ranking system and it contains a great deal of exactly what many of us suspected it did: a panoply of censorship tools and blacklists.
steven tey put together a nice list here. it’s worth reading the thread.
it has a whole bunch of little nasties, distinguishes between republicans and democrats explicitly (yes, really) and creates a special caste of “power users.”
it also had a whole set of naughty list topics that get you de-ranked and silenced if you speak about them. they reside in a database that we do not get to see.
this is basically everything we all expected.
where it gets really nasty in interesting ways is in the manner that the system is set up to allow for crowd sourced censorship where negative feedback can be gamed to suppress visibility.
the code contains a whole bunch of mechanisms that are easy to manipulate and weaponize where individuals or small groups can generate blacklists that then proliferate into the system and into so called “block lists” where large number of people subscribe and automatically mute and block anyone added to the list.
this, in turn, means that suddenly 10 or 20 thousand people block you at once. and you’re crushed. just putting your name on the list means you’re going to get down-modded so hard that even your own followers will not see your tweets. this was clearly happening to me. when you have over 60k followers and your tweets are getting 3,000 views, something is clearly very, very wrong.
and this breaks the whole system. in what amounts to a form of offensive inverse SEO (search engine optimization) people are using botnets and block lists to silence people who never even met them and without any way to see what’s being done. how would you ever know if a stranger blocks or mutes you? you wouldn’t. you just see your reach and visibility crater and cannot find a culprit.
if you have 10,000 bots that all subscribe to a block list you curate, you can basically shove almost anyone you like out of circulation all by yourself.
if you get a big group of folks to subscribe to your block lists, same thing (but harder to detect).
and these sorts of tactics being implemented deliberately, with sophistication, and with malice.
these “activists” know exactly what they are doing. it’s an unaccountable crowd sourced censorship society.
and it’s turning twitter into a farce.
certain internet felines had some thoughts on this matter.
and, apparently, they have reached the right ears.
in classically perverse and utterly typical fashion, the twitter post that goes viral is always the one you have not completely thought through. it’s as unerring as a cat seeking the lap of the one person in a room who hates cats. (yes, we do this on purpose. because it’s funny. deal with it.)
upon further reflection, i have modified my view here somewhat:
i no longer think that only the mutes and blocks and reports of blue checks should count.
i think no one’s should and that the idea of allowing the offended to silence speech is antithetical to the purpose of an open agora and should be abolished altogether from the bluebird kingdom.
it seems like any other course is just going to lead to endlessly shifting forms of gaming and weaponization of offensive silencing of others by the endlessly offended.
and this is no basis for discourse and no foundation for a free and open public square.
we should not be able to censor other twitter users and if my blocking you makes others less likely to see you then that is exactly what i am doing.
and it puts me in the ugly position of having to play the censor to curate my feed.
and this is not a place i want to be nor a power anyone should have.
so how about we just dump the idea altogether?
the goal here is not to proscribe and circumscribe speech in a war of all against all to see who can organize best into warring guilds to suppress dissent and speech.
it’s to put the ball into play and let the game commence.
the point of free speech is to allow and enable controversial speech and the cure for it when such speech is wrong is not "allowing those who disagree to silence it" it's "more speech."
and keeping censorship powers for a blue check aristocracy does not solve this.
but getting rid of the whole notion of offensive “down modding” by the perpetually peeved does.
such a system is the opposite of meritocracy and discourse.
it’s karenocracy ganging up on speech and throttling it.
and that is a race to the bottom.
honestly, i see no real reason why twitter needs ANY of this visibility modding.
why should someone get more precedence for having more followers or more likes?
they already have more visibility because they have more followers who see each tweet. why amplify it? the basic mechanism of follow, re-tweet, mute, and block already creates a robust system for informational shaping and trend discovery.
it’s fully voluntary and consensual.
just let it run.
cut all this other messing about out and let’s see what we get from just stripping it down to bare essentials. perhaps a few more guard rails are desirable. perhaps not. let’s find out.
no other person should have a vote on how likely someone who follows you is to see your content. it’s between you and those who chose to opt into getting it.
hell, create a personal upmod function so that if i want to be sure that i always see someone’s tweets at the top of my feed, i can. let me decide.
no other person should have a say in how likely it is that strangers will stumble upon your musings at casa del bluebird.
that’s not a public square, it’s a mob rule censorship guilds.
and we need to do better.
this is where information is shared and the debate goes on.
this is the agora.
this is the arena.
and no one should be allowed to turn it down.