Understanding Shadow Banning on Social Media

The term "shadow banning" has been a hot topic in recent years, with many social media users accusing platforms of limiting the visibility of their posts without their knowledge or consent. The term refers to the perception that social media companies are taking stealth actions to limit a post's visibility. In this article, we will delve into the origins and implications of shadow banning, as well as the legalities surrounding this controversial practice.

Origins of Shadow Banning

  • The very notion that our online activity can be manipulated by a platform without our knowing it can be unnerving, said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of computer science and law at Harvard University. “Shadow banning is the worry by any user that they are howling into the void, that they have been placed in a bubble and it’s undisclosed,” he said.
  • The term traces to at least 2012, when Reddit users accused the platform’s administrators of banning a link to a Gawker article while publicly championing transparency. The meaning of the term has evolved over time. Now, users may throw around “shadow ban” to describe general discontent about not getting the attention they believe they deserve on social media, even if they don’t necessarily think a platform has engaged in any clandestine moderation.

Elon Musk and Shadow Banning

  • Just last month, Elon Musk — Twitter’s new billionaire owner and a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” — used the term in the context of the so-called Twitter Files, internal company documents that were released with Musk’s authorization. They showed that Twitter officials had debated blocking reporting from The New York Post on Hunter Biden, son of the current president, in October 2020, a month before the presidential election.
  • Musk said the documents proved that the company’s leaders at the time had engaged in shadow banning. Twitter initially defended its action on the grounds that the reporting was unverified but later said it would change its policy for similar content. In the same month, Musk was himself accused of shadow banning. The college student behind the Twitter account @ElonJet, which tracked the whereabouts of Musk’s private plane, learned from Twitter employees that it had been deliberately silenced, and tweeted about it. The account is now suspended.

Legalities of Shadow Banning

  • Private companies are allowed to make their own rules about content moderation, but for advertisers, users and free speech champions, true shadow bans are problematic because they enforce unarticulated rules secretly, said Katharine Trendacosta, a tech policy expert at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • They allow a company to avoid taking responsibility for moderating content while quietly manipulating its flow. And those who are silenced have no process for emerging from the shadows. Zittrain of Harvard said the debates around shadow banning highlighted societal divides and the two big issues plaguing tech companies handling the tsunami of online content. “We can’t agree on what we want,” he said, “and we don’t trust anyone who tells us they can handle it.”


while the term "shadow banning" may have different meanings for different people, the underlying concern is the lack of transparency and accountability in the moderation of online content. As technology continues to evolve, it's important for companies to be transparent about their moderation policies and to provide a process for users to appeal if they believe their content has been wrongly suppressed.

Written by IAS POINT

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