Shadow Banned

Published on May 27, 2022

Quitting Twitter after thirteen years

In 1986, Charlie Munger delivered a commencement address at the Harvard-Westlake school in Los Angeles. The title of the speech was How to Guarantee a Life of Misery, which might seem like an interesting choice for a graduation ceremony. Of course, the point of the speech was to illustrate how one could go about engineering a failed life, and then proceed to do the opposite. Knowing what to avoid in life can be half the battle. The principle of inversion is a very useful mental model. 

I found myself thinking about the principle of inversion this morning when I realized that my Twitter account had been “shadow banned”. 

Unlike a formal suspension, Twitter does not even extend the courtesy of informing users of a shadow ban, but there are tools that can run a check. Shadow bans result in less engagement by suppressing a user’s tweets in certain algorithms. In my case, the shadow ban involved suppression of my tweets in searches and suggestions.

How did this happen? 

There is no way to know for certain because Twitter does not inform users of the reason for shadow bans, but I suspect it has something to do with a tweet I wrote about Monkeypox earlier this week. In what was an obvious joke based on the context as well as adjacent tweets on the subject, I wrote something to the effect of monkeypox being an invention of Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates in order to boost Moderna’s profits with a new vaccine. 

Well, Twitter’s “trust and safety” department, or the algorithm they created, might have thought that I was spreading “misinformation”.

A stupid tweet? 

Sure, but a big part of the culture of fintwit involves silly memes and jokes, many a lot more offensive than anything I have ever posted. The point of the tweet was actually to make fun of crazy conspiracy theories by writing something absurd.

While I use Twitter mostly for serious subjects, I also use it as a virtual water cooler for socializing because I do not work in a physical office. People joke around water coolers, or at least they used to when society had a sense of humor.

Twitter is full of subcultures like fintwit, but the company’s algorithms are notoriously poor when it comes to serving up advertisements or deciding on what content to suppress or amplify. Even worse, Twitter’s algorithms are completely non-transparent. This is one of the issues that Elon Musk identified months ago. Supposedly, he will open up Twitter’s algorithms if he gains control of the company.

If you want your business to fail, it would make sense to treat your revenue generators exceptionally poorly. If you have more than a few thousand followers on Twitter and post regularly, you are likely creating hundreds of thousands or millions of tweet impressions every month. These tweet impressions show up in user timelines and Twitter runs ads, known as promoted tweets, next to user generated content. 

While my twitter account is hardly in the fintwit big leagues, with over 26,600 followers it generated over five million impressions for Twitter over the past month:

How much revenue has Twitter generated from my account alone over the past month? I have no idea, but I have to think that my account has value to Twitter. Larger accounts are obviously even more valuable.

So does it make sense to treat your revenue generating “assets” poorly? Perhaps it does. If you want to fail. It is well known that Twitter’s management and board of directors own relatively little of the company and are not heavy users of the platform. There is not much skin in the game. 

Twitter’s managers probably don’t want to fail, but they manage the business quite cluelessly. And now that the company is in the process of being acquired, I suspect that many executives truly do not care. No matter what happens, they will get generous pay based on the separation agreements under a change of control.

Does Elon Musk represent the salvation of Twitter? 

Call me a skeptic. 

The deal may never even close. If it does, it isn’t clear whether Elon will follow through on his pledges to permit all legal speech and to open up the algorithms for scrutiny. At least he will have significant skin in the game and a major incentive to care about revenue generation given the heavy debt burden the company will carry.

In many ways, Twitter is a distraction, but it is where the eyeballs are. I’ve been ambivalent about using social media in the past. However, being a free content generator for Twitter and being treated disrespectfully changes the equation. 

I have removed all of my tweets after archiving my recent tweet storms on Berkshire Hathaway and early retirement. Why should I leave content on Twitter that can be used to continue generating ad revenue for the company?

Rather than using a platform that seems to have little respect for its users, I might post more frequent informal content on Substack in addition to the Weekly Digest and Business Analysis articles.

I’m under no illusions that an account with 26,600 followers abandoning the platform will cause Twitter any harm, but the cumulative effect of many accounts doing so might. I look forward to having more uninterrupted time and being able to remain in a flow state with fewer distractions. This decision also represents a long overdue application of via negativa

Hopefully abandoning a dysfunctional and time consuming platform will result in better content for those of you who have subscribed on Substack, a platform that treats its writers with far more respect than Twitter ever has. 

Thank you for reading! 

PS: In case you have read this far and have no interest in my issues with Twitter, I’ll leave you with a link to the latest memo by Howard Marks, Bull Market Rhymes, which is an insightful must-read, as usual.

Note to Readers:

Now that I am no longer using Twitter, the best way to follow my work is to subscribe to Rational Reflections, my publication on Substack, which currently has over 4,900 readers. New content is published frequently for both free and paid subscribers.

Shadow Banned
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