WikiLeaks Locked Out of Twitter & Shadowbanned: Here’s What Happened

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Multiple WikiLeaks-associated accounts appeared to have been locked out of Twitter and possibly shadowbanned today. At least one of the accounts has been given back access and no longer appears to be shadowbanned, but the other three accounts still appear to be shadowbanned from the dropdown search menu, including the main @WikiLeaks account. The news was revealed by Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic journalist and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. Hrafnsson was named the new editor-in-chief in late September because Julian Assange didn’t have reliable Internet access at the Ecuadorian embassy.

Hrafnsson broke the news on Twitter, sharing that both @Wikileaks and @AssangeDefence’s Twitter accounts had been down for more than 24 hours, with no explanation from Twitter. By “down” he didn’t mean the accounts were gone, but that they were locked and inaccessible. He later clarified that four accounts in total were affected: @Wikileaks, @AssangeDefence, @wltaskforce, and @assangelegal.

The @AssangeLegal account later confirmed Hrafnsson’s reporting, adding that their access was restored. It’s still not known exactly why the lockouts and shadowbans have happened. Twitter has not yet responded publicly. It’s also not known if the other three accounts have been given back their access like @AssangeLegal was.

@AssangeLegal wrote around 5:20 p.m. on December 20: “My account is now working after repeated attempts to resolve the problem. Thanks Kristinn for drawing attention to this. : WikiLeaks-associated accounts are exposed constant attacks. Please address.”

Hrafnsson also noted that all four accounts appeared to be shadowbanned for a period of time. Daily Dot confirmed this, reporting that when searching for the accounts on Twitter’s search button, they did not appear in the dropdown menu.

This issue appears to have been resolved for @AssangeLegal. When Heavy searched for that account on Twitter, it is now appearing in search results and is no longer shadowbanned. Others have noted the same.

However, the other accounts appear to still be “shadowbanned” in some form and are not showing up in dropdown search results. It’s not known if this is intentional or an accidental technical glitch. If you’re already following the accounts, then they will appear in dropdown search results. Heavy earlier thought the shadowbanning was lifted or the technical glitch was fixed, but the accounts only appeared in search results because they were already followed. If you aren’t following the accounts already, then they don’t appear when you search for their names or search for WikiLeaks and only look at the dropdown results. (If you later click on “People,” then the accounts will appear.) Here’s an example when you search for @WikiLeaks:

Wikileaks Twitter Ban

TwitterWikileaks Twitter

You also don’t see WikiLeaks if you just search for Wikileaks without the @.

Twitter

Hrafnsson said he had reached out to Twitter but did not get a response about what was happening.

This isn’t the first time that shadowbanning complaints have been raised against Twitter. Rep. Matt Gaetz encountered a similar issue in July, when his accounts would not appear in the search function’s drop down results, Daily Dot noted. Conservatives were concerned he was shadowbanned, but the company denied this happened. Others thought that algorithms might have been to blame, along with a new ranking system Twitter had implemented to combat troll behavior.

But the issue for WikiLeaks was more serious, since not only are the accounts not appearing in dropdown menus, but they were also inaccessible for a period of time, according to Hrafnsson and @AssangeLegal (and may still be inaccessible.) The WikiLeaks account alone has more than 5.4 million followers, which means a large number of people are affected by what’s happening.

It’s not clear at this time if all four accounts can now be accessed or not. @AssangeLegal is accessible and has tweeted since the lockout. The other three accounts have not tweeted yet, but they also have not tweeted in quite some time. @AssangeDefence last retweeted a tweet from November 9, and @WLTaskForce last retweeted a tweet from July 17. @WikiLeaks itself last retweeted a tweet on December 7. However, since they still appear to be shadowbanned as of around 8 p.m. Eastern, it’s possible that access wasn’t yet restored either.

Assange Defence is an account run by a legal campaign seeking to free WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, according to its bio. Assange Legal is the account of Hanna Jonasson, editor of justice4assange.com. WikiLeaksTaskForce (WLTaskForce) is the official WikiLeaks support account, dedicated to correcting misinformation, according to its Twitter bio. And WikiLeaks is the official WikiLeaks Twitter account.

Twitter has previously stated that it does not engage in shadowbanning, but it defines shadowbanning as making content undiscoverable to everyone. Twitter wrote on its blog in July 2018: “We do not shadow ban. You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”

The blog addressed an issue where accounts weren’t auto-suggested in the search form, even when their specific names were sought. This appears to be the same issue WikiLeaks is currently having. At the time, they said it was a temporary issue that was resolved, and it affected accounts of all ideologies and had nothing to do with politics.

At this time, it’s not known if this is the same issue cropping up again, if it’s an accidental technical glitch, or if other accounts are also being affected that aren’t connected with WikiLeaks. When the issue happened in July, Twitter wrote, “For the most part, we believe the issue had more to do with how other people were interacting with these representatives’ accounts than the accounts themselves (see bullet #3 above). There are communities that try to boost each other’s presence on the platform through coordinated engagement. We believe these types of actors engaged with the representatives’ accounts– the impact of this coordinated behavior, in combination with our implementation of search auto-suggestions, caused the representatives’ accounts to not show up in auto-suggestions.”

It appears that a similar issue is happening again. When searching for Wikileaks, @WikiLeaks does not show up in the dropdown menu. The account does still show up if you search for Wikileaks and then click on “People,” so it’s not completely banned. However, this doesn’t account for administrators’ not being able to log in or access their accounts at all.

This isn’t the first time WikiLeaks has reported issues on Twitter. Almost exactly a year ago, on Christmas Day 2017, Julian Assange’s entire Twitter account disappeared for a period of time. The account later reappeared, and it wasn’t known if Assange had temporarily taken down the account himself or if Twitter had caused the problem.

This is a developing story.

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