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My campaign to raise the voting age got me shadowbanned on Twitter

By J.K. Baltzersen
web posted March 25, 2019

Are social justice warriors at Twitter afraid of a movement to raise the voting age?

I debuted as a FEE writer on the first Sunday of March—expressing the contrarian position that the voting age should be raised. I am not alone in my desire to go in that direction. Back in 2015, a Tennessee professor proposed raising it to 25 but went back on the position shortly afterward. Others have been advocating raising the voting age, too. At the beginning of this year, the issue was discussed on British radio. After the recent fuss about it in the US Congress, another article appeared in Conservative Review advocating raising the minimum age for voting.

It is, however, still pretty contrarian. Some say raising the voting age is never going to happen. I’m not that categorical, but I do realize there are strong forces against such a shift that are deeply rooted in the incentive structure that democracy provides. The position is way outside the Overton window; a severe paradigm shift is needed for it to become a viable option; a steep, long uphill battle is ahead.

A Proposal in Congress

My essay advocating raising the voting age could hardly have been better timed. In the week that followed, US Rep. Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts moved to reduce the voting age for federal elections to 16, bringing the topic to the forefront of public issues in the United States. Around the world, the 16-year-old voting age has been tried in some places and implemented permanently in a few others. While Pressley’s motion failed, it created a lot of debate. Now was really the best time to have an opinion piece out in favor of raising the voting age.

Then along came the inner-workings of Twitter.

With Rep. Pressley’s proposal, reports about wanting to lower the voting age were all over the news. Loads of Boston, Massachusetts, and US national news outlets were covering the story.

Responding on Twitter

Now, what does one do if a proposal one does not agree with is all over the news? At least if one cares a whole lot about the issue? One would respond in some way.

I responded by replying to a number of these news outlets’ tweets and in the replies provided the alternative perspective, linking the infamous essay. I was certainly not alone in tweeting that the voting age should be raised. Some might call what I did spamming, but my replies were directed at official news outlet accounts, not accounts of individuals, and such replies are somewhat analogous to letters to the editor, albeit submitting out in the open.

What happened next was I discovered that some of the tweets did not show up in my own searches. I then used a service for checking for shadowbanning, and my account came up positive for a search ban. I double-checked, and it turned out that my account did not show up in results for searches conducted outside my own account. I was removed from search results, but that fact was hidden from me as it did not affect searches done from my account.

Shadowbanning

Shadowbanning has been reported by James O’Keefe, and very recently Federalist founder Sean Davis was hit by the phenomenon, as reported, amongst others, by The Washington Times. Twitter claims they don’t shadowban, and if shadowban means totally hiding an account from other users, that may be true. But search bans that the user himself cannot see while logged in are obviously real. My tweets were not merely given a low rank—they didn’t appear at all in my own search results, and my account was stealthily removed from search results not conducted from my own account.

I tweeted at Twitter Support, Twitter, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. I never got an explanation. I do not know when the shadowban came into force. These things cannot easily be seen. I do, however, have good reason to believe that it had to do with the “disappeared” tweets. After about 24 hours, my shadowban was lifted, but the “disappeared” tweets were still “disappeared.”

People found my tweets during the shadowban. One of them even got lots of likes while the shadowban was in effect—eventually a three-digit number (after the ban was lifted)—which is rather rare for tweets of mine, especially contrarian ones. But a period of time when tweeting calls for raising the voting age was popular was perhaps the worst time ever to be given a search ban.

Will Twitter Explain?

If I had broken any terms of service, the honest thing would be to handle it in an open way with me. That is not what happened.

Twitter is a private company. There is no right to be on the platform. There is no right to be treated decently. But it is reasonable for users to expect to be treated decently in an open manner, not to be stealthily (partially) banned with no explanation. One could wonder whether Twitter would have achieved its market position if such practices had been well-known to users and potential users.

I do not know whether what happened was completely automatic or if there was human intervention involved. It would be tempting to believe that social justice warriors at Twitter took action against a call for raising the voting age. Could it be deemed a dangerous movement? That would, indeed, be flattering. I welcome Twitter to explain what happened.

A version of this essay was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). There are supposed to be 22 tweets in the result of this search. Somehow the missing tweets from the search result were restored to the search result of my account internal searches by publication on Friday (March 22), but when searching while logged out (Saturday morning European time), 10 of those tweets were still missing, and it seems to be the same tweets that were originally search banned, which was a selection. [Tweets missing: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] ESR

J.K. Baltzersen writes from the capital of the Oil Kingdom of Norway. He is the editor of the book Grunnlov og frihet: turtelduer eller erkefiender? (in Norwegian and Swedish; translated title: Constitution and Liberty: Lovebirds or Archenemies?), with Cato Institute’s Johan Norberg amongst the contributors.

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