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What is “shadow blocking” on social media?

The term “shadow ban” refers to the perception – real or imagined – that social media companies are taking covert steps to limit a post’s visibility. (Lucy Gutierrez/The New York Times)

You think your social media posts are cool, but they aren’t getting any attention. Is it possible that they are “blocking shade”?

Idiom (“prevent shadow” or “prevent shadow”, in English) Refers to the perception – real or imagined – that social media companies are taking covert steps to limit a post’s visibility. It has been mentioned a lot lately.

Just last month, Elon Musk – the new billionaire Twitter owner and self-proclaimed “Observer of Free Speech” – used the term in the context of so-called “Twitter Profiles”., internal company documents disclosed with Musk’s authorization. This showed that Twitter executives discussed the possibility of blocking a New York Post report on Hunter Biden, the son of the incumbent president, in October 2020, a month before the presidential election.

Musk stated that the documents showed that the company’s leaders at the time had laid siege to the shadows. Twitter initially defended its actions on the grounds that the report had not been verified, but later said it would change its policies on similar content.

That same month, Musk accused himself of “blocking a shadow.” The college student behind the Twitter account @elonjet, which has been tracking the location of Musk’s private jet, learned from Twitter employees that his account had been deliberately muted and posted a tweet about it. Now, the account has been suspended.

The mere idea that our online activity could be manipulated by a platform without our knowledge can be troubling, said Jonathan Zitrin, a professor of computer science and law at Harvard University.

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“shouting into the void”

“Shadow blocking is the concern of every user who feels like they’re screaming into a void, that they’re trapped in a bubble and nobody knows it,” he said.

The term dates back at least to 2012, when Reddit users accused Reddit administrators of blocking a link to a Gawker article while promoting transparency to the public.

The meaning of the term has evolved over time. Now, users might use the phrase “shadow blocking” to describe general discontent with not getting the attention they think they deserve on social media, even if they don’t necessarily believe the platform is taking covert moderation measures.

Private companies may set their own rules about content moderation, but advertisers, users, and free speech advocates, True shadow locks are problematic because they secretly enforce unspoken rulessaid Kathryn Trendacosta, technology sector policy expert at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It allows the company to evade content moderation responsibility while manipulating its flow behind closed doors. Also, muted users cannot resort to any process to get out of the shadows.

Zitrin, the Harvard professor, added that the shadow closure discussions highlighted the divisions that exist in society and the two big issues plaguing tech companies managing the tsunami of content online.

He concluded, “We can’t agree on what we want and we don’t trust anyone to tell us they can handle it.”

© 2023 The New York Times Company

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