Twitter's Attempt To Clean Up Spammers Meant That People Sarcastically Tweeting 'Kill Me' Were Suspended

from the not-helpful dept

Just recently, Senator Amy Klobuchar suggested that the government should start fining social media platforms that don’t remove bots fast enough. We’ve pointed out how silly and counterproductive (not to mention unconstitutional) this likely would be. However, every time we see people demanding that these platforms better moderate their content, we end up with examples of why perhaps we really don’t want those companies to be making these kinds of decisions.

You may have heard that, over the weekend, Twitter started its latest sweep of accounts to shutdown. Much of the focus was on so-called Tweetdeckers, which were basically a network of teens using Tweetdeck software to retweet accounts for money. In particular, it was widely reported that a bunch of accounts known for copying (without attribution) the marginally funny tweets of others and then paying “Tweetdeckers” for mass promotion. These accounts were shutdown en masse over the weekend.

Twitter noted that the sweep was about getting rid of spammers:

A spokesperson for Twitter told HuffPost on Saturday that the sweep was a part of a broader company effort to fight spam on the platform. Last month, Twitter announced it would be making changes to TweetDeck and restricted people from using the app to retweet the same tweet across multiple accounts.

?Keeping Twitter safe and free from spam is a top priority for us,? the company said in a February blog post. ?One of the most common spam violations we see is the use of multiple accounts and the Twitter developer platform to attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets.?

Fair enough. But some people noticed that not everyone swept up in this mass suspensions were involved in such shady practices. The Twitter account @madblackthot2, whose main account (drop the “2”) appears to have been temporarily suspended, put together a fascinating thread about how Twitter appeared to be suspending accounts based on keywords around self-harm with a few different examples of people having their accounts suspended for old tweets in which they sarcastically said “kill me.”

There are more examples as well. Not everyone who tweets “kill me” is getting suspended, so at least the algorithm is slightly more sophisticated than that. One explanation given is that when a user is reported for certain reasons, the system then searches through past tweets for specific keywords. Perhaps that works in some contexts, but clearly not all of them.

And, again we end up in a situation where demanding that a social media platform do “more moderation!” to kill off bad accounts leads to lots of collateral damage in the dumbest possible way. And, yet, at the same time, people are quickly finding new election propaganda Twitter bots sprouting up like weeds.

This is not to say that Twitter shouldn’t be doing anything. The company is clearly trying to figure out what to do and how to handle some of these issues. The issue is that companies are inevitably going to be bad at this. And, yet, the constant push from politicians is to make them more and more legally responsible for not fucking up such things — which is basically an impossible task. If Twitter were legally mandated to remove certain types of accounts, it’s likely that we’d end up seeing many, many more examples of bad takedowns a la the “kill me” suspensions.

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Comments on “Twitter's Attempt To Clean Up Spammers Meant That People Sarcastically Tweeting 'Kill Me' Were Suspended”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: INTENDED: "lots of collateral damage in dumbest possible way"

Yet Twitter is highly competent at removing mild “conservative” voices while ignoring “leftists” promoting outright terrorism against “conservatives”.

IF isn’t deliberate incompetence, then Twitter definitely needs regulation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: INTENDED: "lots of collateral damage in dumbest possible way"

But I say the key problem is that Twitter isn’t FORCED to use common law. They have no incentive to — indeed, Masnick says that corporations can arbitrarily remove persons — and no punishment for mis-using the Public Trust that they’ve agreed to. — That’s easily fixed: JAIL top Twitter executives until get their minds right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: INTENDED: "lots of collateral damage in dumbest possible way"

Board note, I mean complaint: Masnick shortened the subject line length to 64 characters again, crampingmystyle, and forcing me to break up one paragraph into several.

At same time, more or less, was a return to censoring, I mean “hiding” my comments, that I was more or less promised wouldn’t be done any more, and indeed was not for several months. (By the way, proving was Administrator-controlled all along.)

I just don’t believe that Masnick actually grasps the TWO-WAY nature of “teh internets”, in which he gives up control by offering HTML code input that I get to use. Masnick believes that he has — in absence of any stated reserve — sole control over the site. But it’s simply not true in practice. Sure wish you’d quit living in the 20th C, Masnick.

Nor does he actually believe in the “free speech” he so often touts, because to censor, I mean “hide”, my little bits of text is clearly contradictory.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 INTENDED: "lots of collateral damage in dumbest possible way"

You do know that it’s the users who hide your comments by flagging them, not Masnick, right?

Also, it honestly makes no difference whether the censorship leans left or right; that has absolutely nothing to do with what Masnick is complaining about, which is where content that had absolutely no reason to be censored is causing entire accounts to be suspended unintentionally.

That’s what collateral damage is: damage inflicted unintentionally while trying to get others. Political leanings guiding blocks or bans would be intentional “damage”.

Ninja (profile) says:

Instead of pointing the legislative gun at platforms collective heads maybe we should be collaborating among us to help tackle such problems? There are plenty of ways it could be done. For instance, new accounts could be restricted for some time frame (random I should add) and the restrictions lifted slowly as the person participates and establishes activities. You could use the verified thing to give more protection to the account and even exempt it from the initial restrictions. You could monitor accounts that go silent for a while and wake up to post stuff about major events only. You could quarantine accounts and give them resources to go back before delivering the hammer ban employing methods that would confuse bots but humans could navigate through somewhat easily. There are plenty of possibilities.

What shouldn’t be on the table is legal pressure and making them liable for activity they can’t prevent without unicorn magic.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

No, not really

“The issue is that companies are inevitably going to be bad at this.”

They’ll only be bad at it if they really want to be — that is, if they refuse to learn anything from all the successes and failures (especially the latter) that preceded them.

This isn’t new. It’s just another version of a problem that’s repeatedly surfaced over decades, which is why there are now a lot of well-known approaches to dealing with it. Of course every version of this problem has its own unique characteristics, and thus not every approach will work — but some of them will. All the people at Twitter have to do is pay attention to history.

I hope they are. But gaffs like this strongly suggest to me that they’re not.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Happy 29th Birthday" message from web inventor Tim Berners-Lee

“The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today. What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.

These dominant platforms are able to lock in their position by creating barriers for competitors. They acquire startup challengers, buy up new innovations and hire the industry’s top talent. Add to this the competitive advantage that their user data gives them and we can expect the next 20 years to be far less innovative than the last.

What’s more, the fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponise the web at scale.”

Agammamon says:

Re: "Happy 29th Birthday" message from web inventor Tim Berners-Lee

So, basically, this guy is incapable of Googling, just takes whatever is dished out to him on Twitter and Facebook, and complains about it instead of looking for the rich selection of blogs and websites that not only still exists, is orders of magnitude richer and more diverse?

Is that the takeaway here? That – worst case scenario – we’re just back to the ‘Big Three’ era of television while completely ignoring UHF, tapes, cable?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Oh, THAT guy...

Yeah, I kind lost any interest in what that particular individual might say(though I will note that it’s particularly funny for him to be complaining about lock-in given the following) when he made clear his support of EME, turning the previous HTML standard into one with baked in DRM support, and rejected a proposal that would have protected security researchers.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

We need a law to start fining Senators who demand there be laws that are clearly unconstitutional & abdicate their duties to 3rd party platforms & threaten economic harm for not giving them soundbites about how much the Senator cares.

Senator Amy Klobuchar – You owe $25,000 for your violation of oath to protect the Constitution.
Of course that’s just small potatoes given all of the hidden slush funds, insider trading, & “donations” that Congress collects. One might think that clearing the corruption out of the halls of Congress would be way more important that some bot retweeted a “stolen” joke to go viral.

Stop trying to wrap the world in nerf to protect us from reality & do something important… like out all of the sexual abusers we paid our money to protect from lawsuits & prosecution so they could stay in the halls of Congress.

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