Conservative Group's Twitter Account Blocked, Liberal 'Flag Spam' at Work Again?

Twitter is blaming an automated spam filter for the multi-hour shutdown of a conservative activist group's Twitter feed on Earth Day, just as the organization was seeing a surge in interest on Twitter and the web for its scathing video critical of the Obama administration.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Twitter has blamed technology for silencing a conservative activist group on Twitter.

Here's what happened on Earth Day, involving Americans for Limited Government and a video entitled “If I Wanted America to Fail,” as reported by ALG's Adam Bitely:

“[F]or some strange reason, Twitter silenced the official account for the new Americans for Limited Government project Free Market America. The account, @FreeMarket_US, went live a few days before Earth Day and was slowly picking up steam. On Earth Day, the official website for Free Market America was launched and its Facebook and Twitter components started to come to life as well. The first video put out by Free Market America, 'If I wanted America to fail,' got over 120,000 hits in less than 36 hours! But you would never know that if you tried to follow the Twitter page — it was suspended by Twitter midway through the day on Earth Day! 

"After numerous attempts to contact Twitter and see what the story was behind the suspension, ALG launched a Twitter campaign against Twitter. Urging all of our followers to contact @twitter to ask why the Free Market America site has been suspended, thousands came to our defense. Led by Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) who tweeted to her more than 270,000 followers multiple times, and wrote a story on the suspension, Twitter exploded with demands for an answer from the company for suspending the account. Many other notables jumped into the fray including Fox News’ Eric Bolling (@ericbolling), talk radio host Neal Boortz (@talkmaster), and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Finally, at 10:46 pm, the @freemarket_us twitter account was restored with an explanation that for some unknown reason the account had been caught up in Twitter’s automated spam filter."

And that's probably what happened. But that doesn't mean Twitter is totally “off the hook” on the question of whether the social media company is biased against conservatives.

Last year, Twitter shut down the Twitter account of Empower Texans, a grassroots conservative organization - and the Twitter account of every single employee of the grassroots conservative organization. The accounts were later reinstated - after The Drudge Report picked up the story and asked, "Is Twitter silencing Austin conservatives?" 

Was Twitter trying to silence the organization because of its politics?

Probably not.

The more likely explanation - in both the Empower Texans case and in the ALG case - is that liberal groups targeted the conservative groups with a coordinated attack designed to label their Twitter accounts as "spam" accounts.  "Flag spam" - activists flagging the social media accounts of political oppents as "spam" in order to get their accounts suspended - has been a problem since before the rise of Twitter and Facebook to their current dominant positions in online media.

Liberal activists used the tactic for several years

Because of the proliferation of fake blogs, spam comments and phony videos, many interactive sites have added mechanisms to prevent a group discussion from being hijacked by allowing regular readers to "flag" things they come across that are offensive, obviously spam or violate copyright laws. After enough complaints about a particular piece of content are raised, the "flagged" video or comment is removed from circulation and placed into a review system in which a pre-selected group of people review it and decide whether the reports are correct. If the complaints are judged incorrect, the content is restored to the Internet. If not, it is kept out of public view. 

It makes sense for Web sites to do this: They have the right to ensure that their sites aren't turned into free advertisements for unsavory companies, after all. What is harder to support, however, is that many Web sites' flagging systems are themselves becoming targets of abuse - by malicious individuals intent on consigning the free speech of others behind the moderation firewall.

The abuse of social media sites' spam flagging mechanisms appears to be a favorite tool of liberal activists, as it is mostly conservatives like Empower Texans and ALG that are victimized. 

On YouTube, dozens of pro-life videos have been marked as "offensive" or containing "mature content," usually without any merit whatsoever. In many cases, complaints of the video producers have fallen on deaf ears. And in 2008, extreme liberals supporting Barack Obama managed to get a series of blog supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination wrongly labeled as spam and taken down.

Twitter owes ALG more than a lame excuse blaming some automated spam filter. It should provide ALG with specifics - if not who complained, at least how many complaints were filed over what period of time.

Until Twitter provides that kind of transparency about these cases, conservative activists can't be blamed for wondering if Twitter's process for identifying and suspending spam accounts is truly fair, or in some way, intentionally or not, rigged against conservatives on Twitter.

As for the tactic of flagging the opposition's Twitter feeds, YouTube videos and such as "spam," the Left should try to win the political arguments of the day on the merits, rather than resorting to sleazy tricks to try to muzzle, silence or remove the opposition from the conversation. Until they do that, social media platforms like Twitter owe conservatives and the American people an extra measure of effort to make sure such "flag spam" assaults on speech are no longer effective.

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Matthew Sheffield's picture