Twitter may not be outright banning its most toxic users, but it appears to be making it harder for you to find them.
According to a new report by Gizmodo, Twitter may be downgrading some of its most controversial users in search results.
Now, several prominent far-fight Twitter accounts no longer appear in the dropdown search results on mobile, even when you search their exact handles.
White nationalist Richard Spencer and far-right conspiracy theorists like Laura Loomer and “Pizzagate” promoter Mike Cernovich are some the people who’s accounts appear to be affected by these recent changes to Twitter search. Other accounts that appear to be demoted in Twitter’s search results include the organizer of last summer’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars.
As Gizmodo points out, you can actually pull up fake accounts for some of these users in Twitter’s dropdown search menu, but not the person’s legitimate account.
The new ranking behavior appears to be affecting far-right accounts across mobile search, but not always desktop search.
It’s also worth noting that some users that fit right in with demoted ones, like Alex Jones and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, remain unfazed by the search result changes. It’s unclear what would set apart Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars, from one of his show’s hosts, Paul Joseph Watson, and why Twitter would choose to downgrade only the latter.
In an effort to replicate Gizmodo’s findings, we tested out the search results for the users mentioned in the article. Mashable was able to replicate the results, including a few of the inconsistencies mentioned about having some of the accounts in question appear on desktop search.
The social media company has long struggled with exactly how to deal with harmful users who use the platform to spread misinformation and harass other users. In May, the company promised to limit the reach of “troll-like behavior” on the platform.
Many critics have called for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to step in and do something about these far-right accounts. So far, the biggest action Twitter has taken to deal with these users has been to change its verification process. While taking away verification badges and blocking new verifications has certainly helped limit some of the site’s most vile people, some of these users still slip through the cracks and manage to acquire the blue checkmark for their account.
One solution popular among Twitter users who’ve been vocal about this issue, a solution that the company is completely within its right to do both legally and based on its own terms of service, is to simply ban these accounts. So far, minus rare instances like Milo Yiannopoulos, Twitter has been adverse to banning these accounts.
Read the replies. How many ways can so many people say “ban the nazis” before it gets through, @jack? How is it possible to support such a thick skull without the benefit of a spine?
Fundamentally, we need to focus more on the conversational dynamics within Twitter. We haven’t paid enough consistent attention here. Better organization, more context, helping to identify credibility, ease of use.
Challenging work and would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
Perhaps Twitter thinks burying some of these accounts in search is the best way to reinforce its commitment to freedom of speech while still telling its broad user base that certain behavior will not be endorsed or promoted on the website. Or perhaps it’s just a temporary bug that Twitter will eventually fix, and “Pizzagate” promoters and white nationalists will once again be easy to find in your Twitter searches. For now, it remains unclear.