U.S. President Donald Trump.(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Criticizes Twitter for ‘Shadow Banning’ Some Republicans

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump waded into the controversy over reports that Twitter Inc. is limiting the visibility of some Republicans on its platform -- a practice known as shadow banning -- sending shares down.

"Twitter ‘SHADOW BANNING’ prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints," Trump, who prefers to use the site to communicate and is its most influential user, tweeted on Thursday.

Trump Criticizes Twitter for ‘Shadow Banning’ Some Republicans
Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump
Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.

Sent via Twitter for iPhone.

View original tweet.

Twitter shares slipped 2.9 percent, to $42.93 in at 9:40 a.m. in New York, after falling as much as 3.8 percent Thursday.

Trump’s tweet comes at a precarious time for social media sites in their relationship with lawmakers, particularly Republicans, as the public grows increasingly concerned about bias, privacy and the power of the platforms to shape opinions and spread falsehoods.

According to a report Wednesday by Vice News, Twitter is restricting the visibility of Republicans including party chairman Ronna McDaniel and some GOP members of Congress in search results. The company casts the moves as an attempt to improve political debate on its service. Several Democrats in similar positions haven’t been "shadow banned," the Vice News reported.

A Twitter spokesman denied in a statement Thursday that the company engages in shadow banning or bases rankings on politics. “We are aware that some accounts are not automatically populating in our search box, and shipping a change to address this. The profiles, Tweets and discussions about these accounts do appear when you search for them.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also responded to the report in a tweet Wednesday. "We have a lot more work to do to earn people’s trust on how we work," he said.

Dorsey highlighted a thread from Twitter’s product head Kayvon Beykpour, who wrote, "To be clear, our behavioral ranking doesn’t make judgments based on political views or the substance of tweets."

It wasn’t immediately clear how broadly the moves affected prominent conservatives.

It’s not the first time Twitter has faced accusations of anti-conservative bias, including as it stepped up efforts to rid itself of fake or abusive accounts.

Trump’s own account was deactivated by a rogue employee for 11 minutes in November 2017, although some have suggested that his alleged bullying and threats should get him a permanent ban. The company has said blocking a world leader or removing their tweets would hamper debate.

On July 17, the House Judiciary Committee held its second hearing into purported anti-conservative bias. Twitter, Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google all sent representatives, who listened as top Republican lawmakers attacked them for perceived actions against conservatives and threatened one of their prized legal protections, a shield against liability for content posted by users.

Twitter’s global lead for public policy strategy, Nick Pickles, testified that claims of banning conservatives were "unfounded and false" and said that its approach to content focused on "bad conduct" rather than ideas. In the hearing, several Democrats countered that conservatives were using selective examples to push the company to embrace more extreme right-wing content.

The company’s commitment to free expression is increasingly clashing with its aspiration to be enjoyable for users as both routine disagreements turn nasty and those issuing threats and hatred insist on space for their viewpoints despite site policies that generally forbid them.

Machine learning algorithms at Twitter are now identifying nearly 10 million potentially spam or automated accounts a week, and the company’s conducting an audit to ensure that every account created on Twitter has passed a security check.

Improving the quality of the platform is critical to user engagement over time, though the sheer volume of account deletions have raised concerns among investors about how the more stringent rules could impact growth numbers in the near-term.

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