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It was nothing more than an error.
On Feb.12, Twitter experienced one of the intermittent technical problems that tend to plague all major worldwide social media sites: users found that their likes and retweets were disappearing.
Such technical problems are not uncommon to the big players in social media, including Twitter, which had problems with disappearing tweets in 2014 and 2015. Once the phenomenon was noticed, users around the world took note that posts with dozens of likes suddenly had none. And Twitter responded by issuing a statement that they had seen the issue and were working on a fix.
Some people around the world are experiencing an issue with notifications, Likes, and Retweets. We’re working on resolving this and will follow up soon. We apologize for the inconvenience.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) February 12, 2019
But such social media technical issues are not immune to the hyperpartisan echo chambers that fester on these same services. And so virtually any time Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter go down, these problems get rolled into the endless series of grievances that conservatives and conspiracy theorists compile about them, fodder for the idea that the mainstream media and big tech are out to get them, shutting down alternative points of view even if it damages their own bottom line.
Almost immediately after the glitch was discovered, a number of prominent conservative pundits saw the outage as either a massive suppression effort against their views or as personal attacks directed at them by left-leaning Twitter management.
Ann Coulter was one of the first to jump in, seeing the invisible hand of Twitter management at work when thousands of likes disappeared on a tweet of hers that called President Donald Trump a coward.
Hey Twitter! This Tweet had THOUSANDS of "likes" an hour ago – suddenly it's down to 99. Twitter management is removing "likes" from conservatives now? pic.twitter.com/5W5mYp368Q
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) February 12, 2019
Radio host and conservative pundit Larry Elder found the same thing, as did ultra-conservative YouTube channel Prager University, libertarian podcaster Dave Rubin, and many others. They denounced it as censorship, suppression, and even an attempt to drive them off the site.
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH @Twitter?!. For my last several posts, posted a few hours ago, the number of retweets and likes suddenly declined, dropping hundreds of retweets and likes.
ARE YOU EXPERIENCING THE SAME PROBLEM?
— Larry Elder (@larryelder) February 12, 2019
Earlier today, Twitter shadow banned a tweet from the PragerU CMO about online censorship. They have now shadow banned his tweet calling them out for the initial shadow banning. The silencing of conservative voices by big tech companies needs to stop! https://t.co/6FpTRmm6xm https://t.co/5ZxGXhQ4CK
— PragerU (@prageru) February 12, 2019
Anyone else seeing strange Twitter problems again? No doubt they’ll ramp up shenanigans as election gets closer. Shadowbans and limiting reach of retweets to seem hardest to track. cc: @EricRWeinstein https://t.co/ZtCI1Mf0M6
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) February 12, 2019
It wasn’t just mainstream figures complaining of their Twitter reach suddenly being curtailed.
Numerous high-visibility conspiracy theorist accounts saw the same thing and decided that it was evidence of “something big” that was about to take place. And it was something that the deep state didn’t want us to know about. Was it mass arrests? A crackdown on free thinkers using social media?
This tweet had over 500 RTs. They've removed the third digit. I sht you not. https://t.co/UK0wXtHDTl
— Joe M (@StormIsUponUs) February 12, 2019
Media: Global Twitter glitch has been removing likes and retweets throughout the day.
So, you’re not the only one experiencing it!! Anon post!!
My note: Unless you’re a Liberal lunatic, then it’s actually adding likes and retweets!!#QAnon #TwitterAntics @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/9EpQOr0UCs
— RunningTheRace ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@2runtherace) February 13, 2019
Twitter must testing their new censorship algorithm.
— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) February 12, 2019
Some of these are the same complaints that are constantly leveled against Twitter. Conservative and conspiracy theorist accounts constantly accuse the site of attempting to “shadow ban” them, by allowing their posts to go up, but rendering them invisible and impact-less.
However, as the Daily Dot pointed out, shadowbanning is not a phenomenon the site carries out. The lack of impact that many conservative posts have is very real, but due entirely to their constant retweeting of other tweets, and their lack of original posts or engagement. The mass censorship that drives right-wing Twitter’s grievance machine simply does not exist.
Have there been prominent figures on the left that experienced this also? Or was both @larryelder and @AnnCoulter just a coincidence? Given Twitter's track record, it's impossible not to suspect the censorship of conservative voices. https://t.co/N9kyK8yFqm
— PragerU (@prageru) February 12, 2019
So if it wasn’t shadow banning, was Twitter actually removing engagement from conservative accounts? If it was mass suppression of right-wing views, it wasn’t being carried out with much care.
Prominent liberals on Twitter found the same thing happening to them, complaining of lost RTs and likes by the thousands. Most of them simply mocked the conservatives complaining about it and went on with their days. The phenomenon even struck Twitter’s “mayor,” Chrissy Teigen.
my timeline is not updating…not showing replies, tweets or convos I've had hmmmmm how am I supposed to do my mayoral duties here I cannot work like this
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 12, 2019
And it wasn’t just happening in America, either. The far-right in India freaked out that Twitter was purging its Twitter presence, with the tags #TwitterMischief and #TwitterInsultsIndia becoming popular as part of an instant conspiracy theory that the site was boosting liberal politicians at the expense of conservatives.
There were also plenty of upset K-pop fans distraught that their social media presence was being curtailed by Twitter, when all they wanted to do was share the love. And then there were the random Twitter users with no particular footprint complaining that their meager followings were even smaller.
there's a glitch on twitter rn where your retweets and likes disappear
— Anne-Sophie ❄️ (@love_seok) February 12, 2019
In the end, the phenomenon was fixed fairly quickly and didn’t seem to be permanent, with the missing likes and RTs reappearing within a few hours. It wasn’t even the only big tech glitch going on at the same time, with influential Instagram users complaining that they’d lost millions of followers, likely due to the company carrying out a sweep of fake or bot accounts.
While there were similar rumors going around about the Twitter bug, it turned out to be just that, a bug that the company quickly found and fixed. So if Twitter wants to purge conservative thought from their service, they’ll have to find another way to do it.
Mike Rothschild is a writer who specializes in researching and debunking conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs. He also writes about politics, history, and breaking news.