By Amanda Metzger
Throughout history many truth tellers have been pushed into the shadows. Sometimes they are the voice of the voiceless and the authorities would prefer the vox populi remain silent.
Ironically, the ones pulling the strings seem to dwell in the darkness of the shadows as well. You can’t see them, but you can feel their power.
Shadow banning on Twitter is a tricky practice in which a user’s content suddenly disappears from news feeds and becomes less prominent, even in the feeds of their most dedicated followers. It’s stealth. The user isn’t notified that the algorithm views them differently. Without placement in the newsfeed, someone would have to seek out your Twitter page to find you instead of stumble across your tweet while mindlessly scrolling through their feed.
In the case of Michael Savage, it became apparent Sunday after being temporarily blocked last week following the burning of Notre Dame, that now he may join the rebels in the shadows. Some followers who used to receive notifications of his tweets on their smartphones no longer received them. He suddenly found his Periscope live broadcast was limited in the number of viewers.
There have been news reports of conservatives being shadow banned on Twitter. In some cases they no longer appeared in the auto-populated drop-down search menu on Twitter, which slashed their visibility on the social media platform. Even after this was exposed, Twitter denied it and several media outlets went along with them for the ride.
Who is in the shadows deciding who is heard and who is silenced? Someone in a dark room behind a bright screen in a foreign country with no First Amendment?
Or maybe it’s an American trying to create a safe space online. I can’t think of anything less safe — anything more damaging — than limiting the exchange of ideas. We’re in a dangerous place when we’ve forgotten the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
On Twitter, Michael Savage will frequently engage with his critics. He doesn’t block most of them, only those who are vulgar or who try to denigrate him with lies. With most of them, he opens a dialogue.
This is what the First Amendment says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
True, the First Amendment applies to the government. True, Twitter is not the government, but it is an entity to which we’ve entrusted authority. It’s a 21st century platform we’ve allowed to control the conversation.
We are getting closer to the point where federal regulation of social media is inevitable. The airwaves are regulated. In this case, my plea is that there is some transparency in who is banned, blocked or deplatformed and why. I would prefer no one find themselves silenced by another.
You may say if social media continues to silence the right, we’ll head to 4chan or start our own social media. Unfortunately if you are relegated to a right-wing platform your ability to reach independents and people who aren’t just on the Internet for politics is limited.
Your access to open-minded people who logged on to enhance their human experience is likely diminished.
It might sound silly to think opening up Twitter on your phone could enhance your human experience, but how many times have you learned something new there, seen something that made you smile or interacted with someone who enlightened you? Maybe someone even made you angry. What did you learn from that?
If the cause for blocking on social media is to prevent the spread of misinformation, who decides what is misinformation? In Orwell’s 1984, protagonist Winston Smith worked at The Ministry of Truth where he doctored articles from the past at the government’s whim. In other words…“We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”
The much more frightening next step is deplatforming. While there are still people who think only conspiracy theorists and kooks believe in shadow banning, there is no argument that deplatforming is real.
Maybe you don’t care who was deplatformed last year. You didn’t agree with them anyway and seeing their tweets and posts ruined your day.
But if you don’t stand up for them now, they won’t have a voice to come to your defense when you are silenced.