Twitter suspended thousands of accounts overnight and conservatives on the platform aren’t happy about it. Twitter has yet to make a public statement about the issue, but right-wing users believe that they’re being targeted in a mass purge of suspected Russian bot accounts.
Conservative Twitter has even started a hashtag called #TwitterLockOut to talk about the purge, with some claiming that real people (as opposed to bots) were locked out of their accounts. Gizmodo has so far been unable to confirm that any real people have had their accounts mistakenly suspended. [Update, 12:11pm: See our update below about real people who have reached out to us.]
Everyone from well known figures of the alt-right, like neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, to people with Twitter handles like @Isa4031AMP, @DonofJustice, and @Patriotsavior seem to have been impacted by the move—at least when it comes to their follower counts.
The conservatives, (or in Spencer’s case neo-Nazis), claim that they’ve lost hundreds and sometimes thousands of followers overnight.
Bill Mitchell, a popular voice on the right who’s known for his controversial tweets defending President Trump, claims that he lost roughly 4,000 followers overnight.
Many people who are angry with Twitter are advocating for a move to Gab, a competing social media platform that has become the preferred alternative to Twitter for white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other folks you probably don’t want to associate with.
Some Trump supporters are blaming the Twitter account purge on Communists, which is to be expected.
Mike Flynn Jr., son of the former Trump national security advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, also claims that Twitter is targeting conservatives, though he claims he’s given the company the “benefit of doubt.”
On the other end of the political spectrum, actor Paul F. Tompkins appears to have been suspended overnight for telling Marco Rubio to eat ten D-sized batteries, while others who have told Rubio to go fuck himself over his inaction on gun control.
Gizmodo has reached out to Twitter and will update this post when we learn more.
Update, 12:11pm: Gizmodo has so far been contacted by two real people who have been caught up in what is still believed to be a possible crackdown on bots.
“They told me that my account ‘exhibited automated behavior’ and that I’d be sent a ‘verification code’ which I’ve never received,” one Texas woman told Gizmodo. She asked that her real identity not be disclosed.
Her Twitter account, @ThankUGOD4Trump, still has a warning that it’s temporarily restricted for “unusual activity,” as you can see in the screenshot below. You can view her account, however, by confirming that you’d like to see her profile.
“Don’t know if I lost followers or not before that (only had about 2250 to start with) but I’ve definitely been locked out and unfairly targeted because I’m a Trump supporter who also tweets out Bible verses. Also received that Twitter mass email 20 Jan re: Russian Influence Campaigns.”
One possible red flag in her account, which may have been cause for suspension, is the fact that she retweeted a video implying that the school shooting victims in Parkland, Florida may have been actors.
That video was retweeted by @TEN_GOP_1, which has since been suspended. A version of that handle, @TEN_GOP, was one of the most infamous Russian troll accounts during the 2016 election, which posed as an official mouthpiece of the Tennessee Republican Party.
We still haven’t heard from Twitter about the suspensions but will update this post as soon as we do. The company is notoriously opaque with its policies on suspensions.
Update, 2:15pm: Twitter finally sent Gizmodo a statement saying that it acts without political bias and has been taking steps to make sure that there are real humans behind any given account.
Twitter’s tools are apolitical, and we enforce our rules without political bias. As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviors that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse. We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it. That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone.
The company also directed us to a policy about sometimes requiring a phone number from certain accounts to make sure there’s a real human behind the account. That seems to have happened to a lot of people overnight, including @ThankUGOD4Trump.
Verifying account ownership: To ensure that violators do not abuse the anonymity we offer and harass others on the platform, we may require the account owner to verify ownership with a phone number or email address. This also helps us identify violators who are operating multiple accounts for abusive purposes and take action on such accounts.
So there you have it. Frankly it’s the most transparency we’ve seen in a Twitter statement in a long time, even if it took them over half the day to get it to us.
Update, 2:50pm: I’ve now heard from at least a dozen real people who were inconvenienced by Twitter’s efforts to get rid of bots last night.
One such person, a Trump supporter named Corinne Clark, sent me this:
Thank you for your reply, matt. My account was part of the purge this AM. It first cleared all of the people I follow and I lost over 1,000 followers but those have mostly been recovered as the day goes on and they were able to confirm their accounts.
Major algorithm fail on Twitters part.
So there you have it. It seems like it was a harrowing ordeal, to say the least.