Twitter once muzzled Russian and Chinese state propaganda. That’s over now

By | April 21, 2023

NPR reports:

Dmitry Medvedev, a leading government official and former president of Russia, took to Twitter earlier this month to denigrate Ukraine in a post using language reminiscent of genocidal regimes.

And Twitter didn’t stop him.

In his 645-word tweet titled, “WHY WILL UKRAINE DISAPPEAR? BECAUSE NOBODY NEEDS IT,” Medvedev called Ukraine a “Nazi regime,” “blood-sucking parasites” and “a threadbare quilt, torn, shaggy, and greasy.”

The post garnered more than 7,000 retweets and 11,000 likes.

One response, though, asked Twitter CEO Elon Musk why he allowed Russian officials to broadcast tweets like this, especially when they used language often associated with genocide.

“All news is to some degree propaganda,” Musk responded. “Let people decide for themselves.”

Musk’s stance of allowing Russian government posts to pop up freely on people’s feeds has now become company procedure. And it’s a radical departure from the so-called “shadow bans” — or in Twitter parlance “visibility filtering rules” — that were previously placed on those accounts.

NPR has confirmed this was a deliberate decision from within the company.

The previous guardrails on government accounts in Russia, China and Iran have now been removed, according to two former Twitter employees who spoke to NPR on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

“What I understand to have happened is, at Elon Musk’s direction, Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team, or what’s left of it, took a chainsaw to the visibility filtering rules,” said one of the former employees, who was an executive at the company.

The former executive said they learned this information by talking to current employees, former employees and people observing the situation.

Twitter applies “visibility filtering rules” to certain accounts to make sure less eyeballs see those accounts’ tweets.

In the past, the company’s Trust and Safety Team has used them for Russian government accounts and state-affiliated media accounts from countries “that limit access to free information.” Medvedev’s account was included in that cohort, according to the former employee.

Without visibility filtering, these accounts can now be more easily amplified and reach a much wider global audience. The implications could mean an increase of pro-government propaganda across Twitter and lead to real-life consequences for people who disagree with the authorities. [Continue reading…]