Twitter has recently begun removing (or more precisely, hiding) “abusive” tweets, a plan that they stated that they would execute not too long ago. Unfortunately, Twitter’s idea of an “abusive tweet” is a bit worrying. The implementation of this—if this is indeed we are seeing in action here—can best be described as “easy to circumvent”; while one of your tweets may appear to be just fine, opening up an incognito tab paints a very different picture. You can see it in action in a video from SuperNerdLand. The idea of removing abusive tweets is further discussed in articles from engadget and Heat Street.
The short of it is that, for one reason or another, Twitter appears to be quietly removing certain tweets. There is no identifying marker or notice of any sort. They will appear as normal tweets whose traffic never took off or stalled out to the account that made the tweet, but to everyone else they just appear to vanish entirely.
In my opinion, as much transparency and honesty as possible is the key to running a platform that will stick around for the long term. Once people start to see stuff just disappear, they trust the platform less. When it’s done secretly for less-than-transparent reasons, that’s not good.
Imagine, if you will, that a tweet is silently hidden not because it’s truly abusive but because it contains something that an employee disagrees with ideologically. Imagine it is hidden because a Twitter employee has a personal vendetta against someone. Imagine a hypothetical tweet that exposes some major issue with Twitter and is simply “disappeared.” This is worrying, and it hurts the integrity of the platform. These are worrying potential problems, and I think a developer ought to step up and do something about it.
Alternatives have sprung up in recent months due to Twitter’s apparent, and altogether worrying, upward trend of censoriousness, such as Minds.com and Gab.Ai. In the long term, one of these sites, or something as yet unforeseen, will probably replace Twitter if it continues to make these missteps. In the short term, Twitter is a very powerful and widespread platform that some people would want to be transparent and some people need to be transparent.
It’s unlikely Twitter will change its tune unless they get so much bad press over this that their stock drops even further than it already has in the last few years. But unless that happens, a large communication platform appears to be suffering from tampering by the very people who run it. I’ve reached out to the company a couple days prior to publication and have not yet received any reply.
Thankfully, Twitter’s commitment to opacity has a critical weakness: the account holder can still see the tweet as if it were still there. All that would be needed is a plugin or website that looks at your tweets and flag any that cannot be seen by a third party. Whether it’s a browser add-on or an independent website, this is a tool that will likely become more and more necessary in the future for Twitter users. Unfortunately, I don’t have the skill to do it. I just hope that I’ve made my case to someone who can.
What do you think of Twitter and the apparently “ghosted” tweets? Do you think it’s a bug or deliberate action by the social media platform? Have you found any of your own tweets have been “ghosted”? Let us know in the comments below!