Sunday, 6 December 2020

Twitter Auto-Bans Users Due to Vexatious Mass Reports from Labour Hard-Right

Over the past few weeks a worrying trend has emerged of prominent (and lesser known) activists on Twitter being banned for absurd reasons. Among those banned was Canary editor Kerry-Anne Mendoza @TheMendozaWoman who shared her own email address in a tweet. 

Twitter apparently received a high number of reports that Mendoza was sharing personal information without permission, i.e., doxxing, and her account was automatically suspended. More concerning, I understand Mendoza was unable to successfully appeal the decision - her suspension was only overturned when Twitter users kicked up such a fuss that Twitter of America got involved. 

It would seem Twitter UK allows an algorithm to make a decision to ban a journalist with 59,100 followers, based only on the number of complaints received. How else could you explain the absurdity of the decision? This is a system which is clearly open to abuse and which leaves the most popular accounts the most vulnerable.

The Mendoza situation was not a one-off either...

Kerry-Anne was actually banned twice in a matter of days, and our very own Rachael Swindon @Rachael_Swindon was also banned - for the same reason too (!) - sharing an email address. Thankfully, Rachael also had her Twitter account restored after a public outcry. (We simply weren't going to sit back and let two of our strongest female voices be purged!)

Other activists, however, have not been so lucky...

A Twitter user called Red Sarah @RedSarah99 was recently doxxed by the Labour hard-right. Not long after that, she was banned for copyright infringement. Her crime? Sharing the song Letter to Corbyn in a tweet. The artist - Craft-D - has confirmed Red Sarah absolutely had permission to use the song. Both he and many other Twitter users have publicly appealed the suspension, but alas, it seems poor Sarah is not a big enough name for Twitter to take notice. 

Unless you have a huge platform, it would seem the algorithm is your judge, jury and executioner. And the algorithm is broken...

Another Twitter user, Ben @BenJolly9 was banned for posting a picture of an MP! Apparently, this was for "sharing personal information", i.e., doxxing again. (The picture was linked to the below tweet.)

The Twitter algorithm will just blindly accept that posting a picture of an MP that's in the public domain is equivalent to posting a regular user's address and other personal info! It's just absurd. But it gets worse. Ben's account was reinstated for a few hours and then mysteriously banned again. No one knows why this time.

Was the suspension lifted in "error"? Or was it lifted because Twitter users kicked up a huge fuss? Was the original suspension reinstated? Or was Ben vexatiously mass-reported again? We just don't know.

Here's what we do know: 

A number of Twitter users, some high profile and with blue ticks, have been boasting of their coordinated efforts to get these accounts banned. They've also publicly lied about the reasons for the bans. I could prove this with screenshot evidence, but honestly, I'm not giving these trolls the oxygen of publicity. Their tweets are out there and you can unearth them yourself with a few quick Twitter searches.

A few points to consider if you are a Twitter user:

The algorithm seems programmed to recognise certain elements of a tweet but not understand context. This means if you share your own personal email, for example, or the telephone number of the Samaritans, or a picture of your family pet, you could fall victim to mass reporting. If a few dozen complaints come in from this troll group, the algorithm will take you down. And unless people make a huge noise, your account will be gone forever. It seems Twitter does not have the manpower to look into each of these vexatious complaints. The algorithm's word is final.

I would recommend all Twitter users block troublemakers on sight. Don't argue with people or attract the attention of bad crowds - it just isn't worth it. Also, avoid using bad language. The algorithm hates that. And even a C-bomb which is not directed at anyone can result in a ban, if the algorithm so chooses.

Of course, what we really need to do is pressure Twitter into addressing the situation, and using the hashtag #StopTheLeftPurge should help. We need all vexatious complainants to be banned and we need to stop the algorithm issuing permanent suspensions. Only an actual human should make that decision. And there should always be a fully transparent appeal system within a guaranteed timescale. 

I know of people who've waited months to hear the outcome of an appeal, but if they email to request a follow up, they get told their original query is still open and they must continue to wait! For how long? Forever?

UPDATE: Ben Jolly and Kerry-Anne Mendoza have now been suspended for the third time in a week. Neither user has been given a reason this time. I have contacted them and they've shown me screenshots which simply state the account has been suspended. Nothing else. If Twitter does not take action against the vexatious reporters now, they will be complicit in harassment. This has to be stopped.

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email: r.d.hale@outlook.com