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How Twitter users have mastered the art of the subtweet against governmental incompetence

You might recognise Susie Dent from Dictionary Corner—for those unfamiliar with her work, she’s probably the country’s most famous lexicographer, having been the resident word expert on Channel 4’s Countdown for several decades.

For the past year or so (since the 2019 election, really) Dent has regularly been going viral on Twitter for her subtle digs at both British and American governments. She has, it seems, mastered the art of the political subtweet: more often than not, her word-of-the-day tweets seem to somehow relate to governmental incompetence.

“Aristocracy, before embracing the elite, first meant government by the best of citizens (from the Greek ‘aristos’, ‘best’),” she tweeted last summer. “Government by the worst people, on the other hand, is kakistocracy.” The noun ‘subtweet’ has in fact made it into the dictionary: “(on the social media application Twitter) a post that refers to a particular user without directly mentioning them, typically as a form of furtive mockery or criticism.”

Snollygoster—“one who abandons all integrity in favour of power”—coincided with Rudy Giuliani’s final descent into Trump-induced paranoia. Dent chose mumpsimus, “someone who refuses to budge/insists that they are right, despite clear evidence that they are wrong,” when we were all working through Dominic Cummings’ infamous Barnard Castle adventure.

This is the art of the subtweet: to renounce such criticism would mean first identifying with it. It’s one thing when it’s purely personal, tweeting about an ex, for example, where context is key. But subtweeting can also work as a communal criticism, reflecting the consistent malaise we find ourselves in amid consistent governmental incompetence and a total lack of accountability.

Remember when the US President mused on the possibility of injecting bleach to fight COVID-19? Perhaps more of us needed to know the word “ultracrepidarian”—“one who consistently offers opinions and advice on subjects way beyond their understanding.” Dent has often taken aim at former President Trump. On the day of the 2020 presidential election, she taught us the meaning of “empleomania”—“the overweening and manic desire to hold public office, at any cost.” And, once the result had, finally, been called for Biden, we were all able to “suspire,” that is “to (finally) breathe out.”

On Trump’s final day in office, she reminded us of the 17th century verb “to exsibilate”: to hiss a poor performer off the stage. She wasn’t the only one taking to Twitter to celebrate his long-awaited departure from the White House. The legendary Nigella Lawson chose as her recipe of the day her Bitter Orange Tart. While Trump was certainly the first two, despite his five children from three marriages, I’m not sure he quite qualifies as a tart.

Meanwhile, Greta Thunberg once again proved that she knows how to rile former-President Trump. She took to Twitter—one of many platforms Trump no longer has access to—to wish him well with her signature savage wit: “He seems like a very happy old man looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” As she did a few months ago, she reworded one of his own tweets aimed at her, way back from sixteen months ago, when the President of the United States would tweet angrily at a child for fun. “Well played,” replied Trump’s niece, Mary L. Trump.

Sometimes, though, Dent simply represents the communal mood, particularly in lockdown. After the announcement of Tier 4 back in December, effectively cancelling Christmas for millions, she dug out the 17th-century “latibulate” meaning “to hide oneself in a corner in an attempt to avoid reality.” On New Year’s Day, we had “crambazzled,” “19th-century Yorkshire dialect for looking prematurely aged from excess drinking.”

For anyone genuinely interested in quirky, funny etymologies, I also recommend Miss PunnyPenny. She regularly posts the history of different Scots words, which seems particularly relevant in the week of Burns Night, from mixtie-maxtie—“jumbled up, higgledy-piggledy, heterogeneous”—to whigmaleerie, “something whimsical or fanciful, either abstract or concrete.” Her accent is infectious and her videos are equally educational and entertaining.

Like Dent, she demonstrates the power of words and their histories—to educate, to entertain, to throw shade with nothing more than a definition. They also help us feel connected, give little sparks of joy, and prove that Twitter can be a place to escape and learn—although it does sometimes seem as if politics is inescapable there…

Twitter shadowban: what is it and how can you tell if you’re shadow banned?

What does being shadowbanned mean?

Shadowbanning is the act of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content from an online community. But here’s the trick: anyone who gets shadowbanned will not be notified that they are, and most users will only realise it after a while. It’s a simple way for social media companies to let spammers continue to spam without anyone else in the community (or outside of it) seeing what they do.

Most users might realise they’ve been shadowbanned after noticing a significant dip in their likes on new posts or if someone else looking for their account realises that they are unable to tag or search the shadowbanned account.

If you want to learn more about getting shadowbanned on Instagram, we previously wrote about how you can tell and what you can do against it. However, if you think you might be shadowbanned on Twitter or simply want to learn more about the different types of shadowbans on the social media platform, here’s everything you need to know.

Just like on Instagram, your Twitter account can get shadowbanned too—the social media even has different kinds of shadowbans depending on what it needs to penalise you for. Interestingly, in July 2018, the company wrote a blog post on the matter titled Setting the record straight on shadow banning.

The point of the article was clear: Twitter doesn’t shadowban its users—or so it says. Most websites and apps deny that they shadowban, that’s why technically, there’s no way to know for sure that it’s happened.

If you suspect that your account has been shadowbanned, a change in the platform’s search or newsfeed algorithm might actually be to blame. “Since the algorithms are the property of social media companies, it’s not in their best interest to reveal everything about them publicly,” explains Neil Patel.

Regardless of whether you’ve been penalised deliberately or accidentally, the effect remains the same: no one can see your posts.

Twitter shadowbanning

As mentioned above, Twitter claimed that it does shadowban. However, in its blog post, it also says that it “ranks tweets and search results” to “address bad-faith actors.” In other words, if Twitter thinks you’re a spammer or a troll, its algorithm will penalise your content.

“Bad-faith actors” is just the social media’s way of defining someone that needs to be shadowbanned. But what are the specific factors that Twitter uses to tell if you’re a “bad-faith actor”?

Reasons you might be shadowbanned on Twitter

– Your account is less than a year old
– Your account has less than 500 followers
– You haven’t confirmed the email address linked to your Twitter account
– You followed or retweeted a tweet from a suspicious/spam account
– You’ve been muted by other Twitter users
– You’ve been retweeted by a suspicious/spam account
– You’ve been blocked by other Twitter users
– You haven’t uploaded a picture to your profile
– You’ve followed too many Twitter accounts in too little time
– You’ve posted too much in too little time
– You’ve been copying and pasting the same tweet too many times (same applies to images and links) 
– You’ve been engaging a lot with accounts that don’t follow you

What can you do to avoid getting shadowbanned on Twitter?

First of all, make sure you have completed your Twitter profile. Start by confirming your email address and uploading a profile picture. Secondly, Twitter (and any other social media) hates spammers so don’t spam people and don’t be overly promotional. If you’re trying to sell a product or service and are posting too much, other users might block your content, causing a shadowban on your account.

Lastly, don’t be a troll. Avoid getting into online arguments, as this kind of behaviour could easily lead other Twitter users to block, mute or report your account.

Twitter’s different types of shadowbans

1. The No Search Suggestion Ban

This type of ban causes an account to not populate search suggestions and people search results when it is searched for while being logged out. Twitter seems to take tie strength or a similar metric into account. While an account may be suggested to users you are strongly tied to, it may not be shown to others.

2. The No Search Ban

This ban causes your tweets to be hidden from the search results entirely, no matter whether the quality filter is turned on or off. This behaviour includes hashtags as well. This type of ban seems to be temporally limited for active accounts.

3. The No Ghost Ban

This is what is referred to as conventional shadowban or thread banning as well. It comprises a search ban while threads are completely ripped apart by hiding reply tweets of the affected user to others. Everything will look perfectly normal to the affected user but many others will not be able to see reply tweets of the affected user at all. Reasons for this ban include behaviour like excessive tweeting or following. Again, this type of ban seems to be temporally limited for active accounts.

4. The Reply Barrier Ban

If Twitter’s signals determine that an account might engage in harmful behaviour, Twitter will hide their replies behind a barrier and only load them when ‘Show more replies’ is clicked. This behaviour is personalised, which means that Twitter will not hide the tweets of accounts that you follow.

In some cases, Twitter classifies accounts as offensive. In this case, replies are hidden behind a second barrier within the ‘Show more replies’ section. This may depend on the conversation which you participated in.

If you’d like to see whether your account is currently suffering from any of these bans, you can use a shadowban test.

Other platforms like Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, and even LinkedIn often shadowban their users for different reasons, so make sure you always stick to the Terms of Service, don’t spam, avoid banned hashtags, avoid posting about illegal topics, and treat others politely.

A shadowban can be one of the most frustrating things, especially if you don’t feel like you deserve one. Maybe you don’t agree with the social media algorithm about what is or isn’t inappropriate, or maybe you think you were having a constructive debate while the algorithm thinks you were being a troll—who knows?

Hopefully, our extra tips will help you avoid being shadowbanned in the future. Good luck out there!