Dear Jack, Twitter is broken - Lon Baker - Medium

Several weeks ago, I was following the trending topic around the violence in Portland. Like a lot of users, I was sucked in by graphic images, videos, and the increasingly irrational responses flying in every direction on Twitter.

As I followed the topic, I occasionally tossed in my own opinion, like the following…

While following the topic, I saw some abusive tweets, used the tools Twitter provides to report them and I moved on.

A few days passed, then suddenly all of my Twitter accounts, (personal, professional, and a third I use only for cycling), received suspension notices.

I’ve never received a warning in the 11 years I had been on Twitter, so this was surprising. I appealed the suspensions and asked for an explanation on what caused this to happen.

To date, Twitter has never responded to any of my inquiries. In the absence of any explanation from Twitter, I’ve come up with a few theories of what happened.

Algorithms run amok

The job of content review and moderation is massive and far beyond anything Twitter can do manually. So, there is a chance an automated process suspended all my accounts.

I discount this for the following reason — I’ve followed the suspension appeal process and not received any response after nearly four weeks. Also, if Jack’s recent statements (here) are accurate, I should have received a warning about any offensive tweets I posted, been asked to take them down or received a 7-day suspension.

If this had been the case I’m sure I would have received an “oops, sorry” and everyone would have moved one. No harm, no foul.

Abuse of Twitter Reporting Process

A group of users decided to report me in a way that results in this type of account suspension.

The behavior of the users on the topic was aggressive and angry at anyone in disagreement with their views. It is predictable that the reporting mechanism is utilized to target other users.

This assumes Twitter has checks and balances to ensure objectivity and fairness when internal processes flag an account for suspension — that the moderator's beliefs or politics do not influence the appeals process.

It’s just broken?

The last possibility is that Twitter’s processes are just fundamentally broken or unscalable.

It is possible my suspension appeals are sitting in a ticket queue that may never be addressed or are automatically closed and forgotten.

Why is Twitter screwed?

Jack and the Twitter team’s decision to moderate content and user behavior inevitably leads to what happened to my accounts. On an individual level, it appears relatively insignificant, but at scale, will affect society in unpredictable ways.

Most elected officials, aspiring candidates, political organizations, and even government offices have an official Twitter account. In many cases, these accounts are a primary means for communicating with citizens, the media, and even foreign governments.

Twitter is unique in that any citizen can directly communicate with the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House or their own elected officials. There are few, if any, really effective means to interact directly with our own elected officials at a national level.

Courts have ruled that elected officials can not block citizens with critical opinions on Twitter. What is to stop the courts from deciding Twitter can not prevent citizens from interacting with the accounts of elected officials or government offices?

If my experience is as suspected, abuse of the reporting process, how long before this becomes a wide-spread tactic? Suppress the oppositions user base online — digital gerrymandering.

Revisiting Jack’s recent interviews, in light of my experience, leads to the conclusion that Twitter will never be able to objectively and accurately moderate content.

Of note, all the tweets I reported were found to have violated Twitter’s rules, and all of the users are still active on Twitter as I write this.

As I publish this, Twitter Support as informed me about one of my accounts.

@Jack — as a member of Twitter in good standing for over a decade before this incident, I did not experience any of the following commitments…none.

Is Twitter screwed? I have no doubt that it.