Discover more from [Removed]: The Real Censorship is Secret Suppression
The beginnings of shadowbans and bozo filters
Where did it start, and where do we go from here?
Welcome to Removed. This is a newsletter about what gets removed from social media, with a focus on secret or shadow moderation.
What do I mean by shadow moderation? That is when your comment gets removed or demoted and it still appears to you as if no intervention occurred. Most people commenting on the internet do not discover when this happens. As a result, it happens all the time.
In 2018 I discovered that all removed comments on Reddit are effectively shadow removals. I had been a regular commenter for years and was shocked to discover the deception. I figured there was not much point in trying to create or promote any other software while such authoritarian measures were in place, so I launched a website called Reveddit to show users their secretly removed content. Here is my Reddit account’s Reveddit page, for example, and here are the views of a removed comment on Reddit from the perspective of its author, other users, and moderators:
As you can see, there is no indication to the comment’s author that any action has been taken against their content.
After building and sharing Reveddit, I began to piece together just how common this practice is. Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok all have similar tools, as do many blogs and online forums. Twitter just announced that they will start showing labels on some violative tweets, and while that is a welcome development, we cannot be certain they will do so in every case. Where does that leave us?
In deciding how to proceed, it may help to investigate where this began. Jeff Atwood's 2011 post titled Suspension, Ban or Hellban? provides a good overview. Essentially, the concept has been around since the 1980s and keeps getting reinvented with different terminology. Those in-the-know may refer to it as a bozo filter or a shadowban. Samantha Cole's 2018 Where Did the Concept of 'Shadow Banning' Come From? is another good reference for those looking to dive deep.
Here is an archive of the blog post discussed in the video.
Google’s Buzz is long gone, but shadow moderation is not a relic. It is very much alive. Over 50% of active Reddit commenters have had comments removed that they likely do not know about. You can see this by opening Reveddit.com/random in ten tabs. Five or more will have recently removed comments. It is so common that I now believe most social media users have probably been moderated at some point or another without their knowledge.
I think of this as a sort of prisoner's dilemma. We can continue bozoing each other, thereby bozoing ourselves, or we can decide not to because doing so gives bozos the very tool they need to replicate.
So the next time you want to criticize content moderation, don't think about what is removed, think about how it is removed. When it is done transparently, you are given a chance to adjust behavior or bring your comments elsewhere, and that is a good thing.
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