First, the question everyone has been asking me:
“Why were you banned on Twitter (and how did you get your account back)?”
Here is what I’ve been able to piece together:
The ban was an automated ban generated by Twitter’s new “Get the facts about COVID-19” anti-fake news pop-up. If you type “Corona 5G” into twitter, Twitter automatically adds a “Get the facts about COVID-19” alert to the bottom of your post, regardless of context. Many users were testing this feature by making tweets like “I think Corona 5G is false conspiracy theory” or “probably going to drink 5 gallons of corona beer tonight, Corona 5G!” only to have the system assume they were making an actual conspiracy theory post about coronavirus being caused by 5G wireless towers.
One of the interns I had helping me with my film twitter account posted multiple “Corona 5G” tweets to his own account – not mine or my film twitter accounts – and got locked out and asked to enter a PIN code to get back into their account. However, this automated system locked every account they were logged into, including mine and the account for my film.
While their account was fine because it got PIN code for re-entry, mine were not. I’ve had an ongoing issue with Twitter where they do not send my phone number an auto-mated PIN. I learned over a year ago when I tried to set-up two-factor authentication and could not because of this issue. I tweeted Twitter support about it but never received a reply. It was like talking into the void. This meant that although twitter listed the ban as “temporary” and said “just enter the code!” it was not temporary, and there was no code.
So tl;dr version: Twitter locked me out due to a poorly implemented censorship system and technical bugs.
While this was not personal, it is political. When Twitter makes a decision to censor certain content or theories, and the system they use to implement that causes accounts to be banned, that is a political decision. It’s just that Twitter is so bad at censoring their users that they don’t always attack the speech they intend to target.
In some way, this is far worse. If twitter had looked at my content and decided it violated their rules it would at least be a conscious decision. What actually happened was Twitter made a robot to censor speech and it malfunctioned and started shooting innocent bystanders.
What this shows is that Twitter is an incompetent technology company. They don’t fix basic features like 2FA when users report errors because they are too busy implementing censorship rules, which also don’t work correctly, because – see point one – they are an incompetent technology company. (I was sweating every technical issue on the platform that I’m launching, but after seeing what a mess the preferred platform of Presidents and journalists is, I’m much less worried.)
The worst part as that there was no one to contact. Twitter has two options – and an automated system and a support email. The support email takes 2-3 weeks to reply, and every time you send a new support email you go to the bottom of the queue. Every reply I received from that email was a form letter, clearly not generated by a human being.
These platforms are important. I’d gladly pay a couple of dollars a month for each social media platform I use if it meant I could have a support phone number to call when things like this happen. Sadly, the business model they’ve chosen is surveillance capitalism, so instead, they’ll spy on everything I do while logged in, except when I send support emails.
I appealed the ban June 6, 2020. They unlocked my account June 24, 2020. 18 days. During that time – June 17, 11 days after the ban – I made a new account (that is now my backup account) and wrote about what had happened so far here.
When I wrote about the ban, I made sure to include just the facts: This is what happened. This is what I was working on at the time. This is where you can follow me now. However, most were quick to assume it was targeted censorship for my work on the issue of circumcision. Even haters were quick to pull out the “Twitter is a private company, they can ban who they want” argument. Strange how they’ve gone silent since Twitter endorsed my content by letting me back on and admitting what they did was a mistake!
The fact this was everyone’s first assumption shows that Twitter has such a reputation for censorship. Given the fact they don’t fix basic bugs and use their resources to implement censorship AI, it’s deserved. However, activists and users are wrong to assume it is mostly implemented manually. Maybe it is a human censoring in the case of Presidents, politicians, and major public figures. But in most cases, it’s robots and AI that are being trained to censor. Anyone who has ever worked with AI can tell you – it doesn’t always do what you expect.
This is relevant for activists because these companies might not implement their policies in an intelligent way, and if you avoid certain phrases or behaviors, you could still push any idea you want on their platform. In fact, censorship policies are most likely to impact regular users, not skilled activists, because activists quickly learn which phrases and behaviors to avoid, while regular users are not thinking about the political dimension of their speech in the same way.
Anyway, my account is back – @bdmarotta here – but I still can’t get 2FA working on my phone number. I doubt they’ve fixed the bug that got me banned, so if you have access to brand account that you want to TANK, here is the formula, which I am only sharing this as an example of what-not-to-do, in the hopes Twitter will fix their bug if enough people know about it.
How to get an account banned:
- Change target accounts phone number to one that will not receive a PIN
- Log into target account and a burner account at the same time.
- From your burner account, tweet “Corona 5G” or other banned phrases repeatedly.
- Twitter locks out all accounts.
- Brand account is locked without any way to get back in.
This might not last long for a bigger brand, but it’d be enough time to screenshot the account and write a news article about it. People might laugh if Twitter claimed a multinational brand was tweeting fake news, and would be a good story for a blog. It might even get Twitter to actually fix their bugs or rethink their censorship approach.
To protect your account: If you have interns or anyone else who has access to your account – make sure they are only logged into one account at time, including from the app. I know it’s convenient to switch accounts from the app, but Twitter might target all accounts you’re logged into at the same time.
One last thought:
Much of the “crazy” you see people exhibiting in the modern era comes from the fact they are trapped in impersonal systems when human beings are designed for personal relating. When someone says something, they expect to be heard. When they speak into social media, their message enters a system that shows some people, but not others. When they listen, they assume they are listening to reality. When they listen to social media, the system shows them some messages, but not others. That system is usually designed to show messages that will provoke an emotional reaction or get them to buy something.
When people have public meltdowns because of a video they saw on the internet or a message they saw on social media, they are having a human reaction to an inhuman system. That is not reality, and you have to learn to see it as such unless you want robots to program you to become crazy. Political polarization, increased teen suicides, and rising depression rates are all functions of robotic programming. (There is hard data linking all three to increased social media use.)
I’m actually glad I got banned on Twitter – not because of the censorship, but because it forced me to take a break from social media, step back, and see what effect it was having on me. It’s not good. With just a month off Twitter, I noticed I was calmer, and spent more time reading books. My vision extended beyond the eternal “moment” of social media into a wider view. Twitter is all about what is happening now. A meme or event everyone is talking about intensely might disappear from relevance in a day or even an hour. When that wasn’t taking my focus, it created more space to focus on the bigger picture.
The executives of smoking companies do not smoke. The owners of casinos do not gamble. The founders of social media companies do not use their products either and restrict their children’s social media use. Even the top performers I know have a team or agency that handles their social media, so they can focus on their excellence. Most are not are endlessly scrolling, the way regular people do. There is a reason for this. It’s called not “getting high on your own supply.” These products are designed to be addictive. Don’t get hooked.
I still plan to use social media. This is where the attention is, and if you have a message to share, you need a presence on these platforms. However, I plan to use them differently.
If you want to change your social media habits, and still want to read my writing, I recommend two things 1) subscribe to my email list here where I send my posts out as a weekly email 2) use an RSS reader, which allows you to subscribe to the feed of blogs you trust and like, without scrolling the content a platform chooses for you. My RSS feed is here. (Just cut and paste that link into your RSS reader.)