Being suspended from Twitter might be a mixed blessing: it lays bare your dependency on a social media platform that enforces its rules with Kafkaesque abandon and forces you to rethink your relationship with a digital platform that exercises absolute power without accountability.
Twitter has been a valuable tool for me to indulge my passion for continuous learning in my areas of interest: climate change, sustainability, energy and low carbon transition, cultural change, digital culture, and current events. It has also allowed me to engage with a broad range of people with similar interests. I follow climate scientists, climate/energy professionals, educators/academics, journalists, climate activists, writers, politicians, and other public figures. I have become familiar with some amazing people via Twitter. Where else could I have a conversation with some of my heroes? At its best, being on Twitter feels like you are at the biggest gathering in the world, with some of the world’s most interesting people. How valuable is Twitter? According to an assessment provided generously by Peter Klein at Educated Change, my Twitter profile was worth 500K EC coins as of May 2018. I take this valuation with some skepticism, but it does reinforce that social networks have tangible value for the people who participate in them. This may be especially true for self-employed people like me, working in rapidly changing areas and dependant on their knowledge of those areas to make a living.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter, perhaps more than I should. After joining in May 2011, Twitter became a habitual part of my internet usage. By August 2018 I had sent just under 11,000 tweets (10.9K according to Twitter), was following about 1700 people, and had about 1040 followers. Mine is not a huge network, but it is not insignificant either. These numbers are somewhat imprecise, because if I look at Twitter today (www.twitter.com/carbonexplorer ) I have 0 followers and am following 0 people.
If you are a fellow Twitter user, imagine how seeing 0 followers and 0 following on your profile might make you feel. You no longer have a Twitter feed that reflects what you are interested in. Twitter is dead to you.
My Twitter account has been suspended. According to Twitter, I was suspended from Twitter “due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”
As best I can tell, I was suspended from Twitter after posting a link to a shared Google Doc that is a one-page partial transcript of a YouTube video by Kate Raworth (www.twitter.com/KateRaworth ), the author of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. In the video, Kate introduces the Three Horizons Framework and goes on to suggest twelve questions that could be used to support a deeper dive using the framework in a group strategy workshop. I found this video very interesting, especially the twelve questions. I couldn’t find them written out anywhere, so I decided to transcribe them and share the results. The first time I shared this I got the title of the Google Doc wrong, so I deleted my tweet, fixed the title, and tried sharing it again. For some unknown reason, Twitter considered this breaking their rules.
What Twitter rules could I have broken? I don’t know, but here is my best guess on how the Twitter algorithm may have interpreted my behaviour:
- Intellectual property: On my Google Doc, I credited Kate Raworth as the source, so I have not broken this rule.
- Third-party advertising in video content: According to its rules, Twitter doesn’t like “pre-roll video ads”. If this was strictly enforced, most YouTube videos would violate the rules. In any case, I didn’t post a video, I replied to a tweet that posted a YouTube video.
- Spam: I was not trying to sell anything and genuinely believed that others who saw Kate’s tweet would be interested in a list of the 12 questions she suggested on the video. In fact, I started the list for my own purposes to capture the 12 questions, then quickly realized others might be interested too, and decided to share it
I don’t understand which of Twitter’s Rules I allegedly broke, and Twitter won’t tell me. After I was suspended, I filed an appeal saying I didn’t believe I broke any of their rules. About 36 hours later they responded:
This was not a very useful message. It didn’t tell me what rule I violated and how I violated that rule. Even worse, it told me there is no way to appeal this decision. In essence: you broke our rules, we are not telling you which rule you broke or how you broke it, and don’t bother trying to appeal or resolve this issue, even if you feel you have been treated unfairly.
My response to this incident has been interesting. I was initially angry at this arbitrary and unjust action by Twitter. How dare they suspend me for my innocuous tweeting to a bunch of climate/energy geeks and ignore the egregious behaviour of high profile extremist propagandists like Alex Jones? I’m still angry but I’m also asking some questions about my own and our collective co-dependency with social media:
- What are the costs and benefits of depending on Twitter and other digital platforms for various purposes including news, education, social networking?
- How can we protect our interests and become better participants on digital platforms like Twitter?
- Why is Twitter’s enforcement of its rules so opaque, irregular, arbitrary, and inconsistent?
- Why is Twitter’s process for appealing their suspension decisions so difficult to use?
- Why can’t Twitter treat its users in a fair and transparent way and provide them with due process to understand, appeal, and resolve disputes?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do have some advice for Twitter users and for Twitter.
Advice for Twitter Users
- Rethink how you use Twitter. What do you value about Twitter? What are other ways you could obtain that same value? What are the costs and benefits of using Twitter? When is Twitter the best use of your time?
- Remember that your ability to use Twitter may be revoked at any time for seemingly arbitrary reasons, with no way to appeal this decision. Don’t assume you will always have access to your Twitter account and everything associated with it (e.g., your tweets, direct messages, who you follow, who follows you).
- Take actions now to prevent loss of access to your Twitter account (e.g., read the Twitter Rules) and to mitigate potential costs if it occurs. For example, you can download your Tweet archive and almost most of your Twitter data via your account settings.
Advice for Twitter
- If your systems detect that one of your users may be breaking your rules, tell the user what rule they allegedly broke, and how they allegedly broke it. It is not enough to tell the user they have broken the rules. Can you imagine being arrested and told only that you broke the law? No, you probably can’t imagine that. Hence my Kafkaesque reference.
- Put in place a real appeal process with due process. It’s difficult, if not impossible to appeal a decision if you don’t even know the basis for the decision (i.e., what rule you allegedly broke) and the evidence supporting that decision. Yes, this is going to require you to hire more people to exercise human judgement. That is the price of success.
Have you ever been suspended by Twitter? What did you learn from the experience? Do you have additional advice for Twitter users or for Twitter?