Trenches Labs : How TwitterGulag Works Part 1 – Setting Reply Traps

UPDATE: This 4 part series is essential to understanding how Twitter Suspension Algorithms work and make Twitter users susceptible to being suspended from Twitter by other users.  Twitter modifies these algorithms as it tries to fight SPAM, but “hacktivists” continue to exploit these modifications and get conservatives on Twitter sent to Twitter Gulag.  We urge you to read all 4 parts for a broad understanding of what is going on, and how this is all part of the Left’s adoption of 5G Warfare.

Part 2 – Seeing Active Blocks & Sweeps
Part 3 – Report Someone For SPAM 100s Of Times
Part 4 – The 5G Era and Twitter Nukes

[Editor's Note: This is the first in a series exposing different aspects of "Twitter Gulag" - the rash of suspensions brought about by Twitter political activists intended to silence opponent accounts by triggering Twitter's suspension routines.  This exploit was first reported in 2008 by Brooks Bayne. Using analytics, some coding and some tips and trial and error we have discovered many of these suspension techniques. Because both Twitter and those who employ these techniques repeatedly deny they exist we have decided to fully document a few of the techniques we have discovered. We oppose and do not recommend their employment - what motivates us is the desire that Twitter improve their platform so that their prior reputation for promoting free speech is restored.]

Poor Erin Gobra: according to her Twitter profile she’s “Out of UCLA and into the workforce – all I need is a job!”  Yet on July 16, 2012 at 11:45 AM she had a job – as a sort of political assassin.  She waited patiently until called upon to “pull the trigger” on a relatively unsuspecting victim she had never met before. He had made himself vulnerable.

She knew exactly what to do – it was all rehearsed in a lab. She was to enter into an ongoing discussion, engage the target briefly, mention the third party who invited her to the discussion, get the target to reply to her and then take out her target.  She performed the job professionally and efficiently – the political hit was a success.

Who did she kill? No one. Nor is “she” a person. @Erin_Gobra is an account on Twitter that teamed with another Twitter account to silence an account with opposing political views.  This form of political assassination happens around the world every day. The resulting suspension of the target Twitter user is called by many “Twitter Gulag.”

What is TwitterGulag?

The name is a colorful one coined when Chris Loesch (@ChrisLoesch on Twitter) had his Twitter account suspended on April 29th, 2012. The suspension occurred as he argued with feminists on Twitter.  He and his wife CNN Commentator Dana Loesch (@DanaLoesch) were joined by others in asserting that Liberals and Progressives had figured out how to exploit Twitter’s system and get accounts suspended as SPAM accounts.  The story got some attention as publications like the Washington Times commented on it and the implications:

If Twitter is indeed using an algorithm that allows user accounts to be reactively suspended according to malicious whims, that’s a threat to free speech for everyone — regardless of individual political views. Though Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Mr. Loesch was told that the company is going to try to create better safeguards to address this issue for the future.

Such suspensions average several days to a week in length.  During a suspension an account cannot send out Tweets nor can any of its prior tweets be read. For political activists on Twitter this is like being suddenly banished from their community for a speech crime – thus the staying power of the #TwitterGulag label.  We have done some tracking of such political suspensions at The Trenches and our database has over 500 instances since Chris Loesch’s.

While such may seem petty and trivial, Social Media in general and Twitter specifically play an increasingly important role in elections.  Not just in distributing information but in determining preferences.  Furthermore, strategic campaigns exist to skew perceptions and deceive opposing campaigns into thinking they have a “winner” in a bad issue is also part of this campaign cycle.  Suppressing actual opinion is a key tactical component of such strategies.

Erin Field Tested A TwitterGulag “Exploit” – The Reply Trap

Erin is an account of a Trenches Engineer.  The Trenches has run a long term investigative project to discover and publish the many aspects of Twitter Gulag and the various political organizations manipulating the popular social media service for political warfare.  The “Erin Gobra” account was designed and implemented to avoid detection and simply loiter to be used someday to prove that (a) TwitterGulag “exists” and (b) Reply Traps exist as a method for getting an account suspended.

The Trenches has reported on Reply Traps before and other methods of getting accounts suspended have existed for some time.  In our Reply Trap piece we referenced this capture of a Reply Trap “trigger” pull involving accounts @StealthBadger and @LindyGeek with  @subculturestuff (now @CatsRImportant) having been a follower and providing the “active block.”

That article captured the essence of what is required for a Reply Trap.  Just the same, people on the Left who regularly exploit it and other suspension techniques simply pretended that the evidence before them did not exist:

We even pressed the CEO of Twitter Dick Costolo (@DickC) on the point.  His response:

Well Dick, it isn’t sophisticated and 3rd parties cause your systems to suspend accounts.  We can reproduce “gulaging” and impose suspensions at any time with very little effort. And whatever was vaguely communicated to Chris Loesch about “safeguards” have yet to be implemented while a Presidential Election is 100 days away.

How To Set A Reply Trap

In Erin’s case, Trenches writer @FoolishReporter was engaged in an argument with @sikklecell01.  @FoolishReporter (who wrote The Trenches piece on Reply Traps) recognized the Reply Trap opportunity existed because so many of @sikklecell01’s tweets were replies.  He contacted a Trenches engineer who logged into Twitter using the @Erin_Gobra account.  This was the first Tweet in response:

Unfortunately, the account @sikklecell01 is still suspended at the time of this article’s publication, so we cannot show his  tweets. This link gives you an idea of how the account tweeted.  On that day it was pestering @littleslav and other female conservatives.

Here Erin tries to get a reply from @sikklecell01 while also trying to goad Liberal Twitter accounts @CatsRImportant and @Shoq into the conversation.  Erin didn’t need to mention others for the Reply Trap to work – she simply needed to get @sikklecell01 to hit the “Reply” button.

The target account @sikklecell01 did reply to Erin to which Erin replied back (and typo’d “based” as “pased”)

Erin then issued a “Block & Report for SPAM” from her account and @sikklecell01 was immediately suspended.

Right after the suspension of @sikklecell01,  @CatsRImportant (formerly @subculturestuff / Melissa in DC) issued the following Tweet which tells the whole story:

You see, @CatsRImportant is an experienced operative who has repeatedly abused the Twitter SPAM reporting algorithms to get countless accounts suspended for the simple act of expressing a political opinion.  So when she saw what happened she immediately recognized the Reply Trap and accused Erin of setting it.  And that was our intention – to get @CatsRImportant or @shoq to witness the event so as to capture their real time response.  Hers admits full knowledge of how Reply Traps are set and sprung – a candid admission that TwitterGulag exists and a confirmation of Reply Traps as a Leftist technique for speech suppression.

How To Avoid A Reply Trap

As mentioned in the previous Reply Trap article, the best way to avoid the Reply Trap that Erin exploited is to avoid hitting “reply” or writing a tweet with an “@” as its first character.

Twitter has designed various algorithms to deal with a new SPAM techniques that Twitter encounters.  One such code change was announced in early April.

Our engineering team continues to implement robust technical solutions that help us proactively reduce spam. For example, earlier this week, our engineers launched new anti-spam measures within Twitter to more aggressively suspend a new type of @ mention spam.

Reply suspensions happen when a young account (under one year old) has been using the “reply” feature often and then the people that the account is replying to start issuing “Blocks” or “Block & Report for SPAM” against the account.  If you invite yourself to a political discussion like Erin did, you do it by mentioning some other person in the discussion, you get the target account to “reply” to you then all you have to do is “block” that user and they will be suspended as long as there are active blocks against them.  You can avoid being the victim of this by avoiding replies in the first place.

Reply Traps require the fewest active blocks for a suspension to take hold. For @Erin_Gobra 4 tweets and one “Block and Report” was all it took. You don’t need a group of people to get someone suspended this way – three accounts will do and one doesn’t even have to know what is going on – they just have to be the first one to get replies out of the target to get the “discussion” going.

What are “active blocks” and how can you see them and know they are in force?  Stay tuned.

Other TwitterGulag Exploits

We have uncovered via analytics and testing multiple exploits that allow a single person or a small group to cause Twitter’s anti spam routines to suspend an account.  We have also found some bugs in the Twitter API, Web client and various Twitter applications (such as TweetDeck) which allow one to manipulate these routines and actually see their progress toward getting a target suspended.  We have also consequently discovered how and when “block counts” against an account are reset on Twitter servers.

In the coming days we will publish much, but not all, of what we have discovered.  A few things will come clear to readers: (1) that #TwitterGulag is real, (2) that Dick Costolo’s statement of June 28, 2012 is false, and (3) that anyone aware of these “exploits” can be in the business of banning political speech expressed on Twitter.  And as readers of The Trenches have learned, manipulating social media for political gain is a business.

We will publish supporting material from screen shots to source code to response logs so that the facts are clearly stated and these conditions can be replicated by others. We hope this leads Twitter to publicly acknowledge the problem and re-engineer these routines to make them less vulnerable to exploitation.

What we won’t publish are discoveries of how SPAM account creators have already adapted to this new environment and are able to go on creating SPAM accounts by the thousands undetected and unperturbed.  For example, we have witnessed and screen captured SPAM accounts detecting onslaughts of Block & Reports and “lay low” until the counts against them reset. We also won’t publish any “boundary rules” that we have discovered on how many follows an account can create in a period of time, follow/friend ratios, and other metrics that are used by Twitter to battle SPAM accounts.  When these rules are not manipulated to affect political free speech we aren’t going to release them.  This is not an effort to help SPAM accounts avoid suspension and deletion – we are exclusively focused on the manipulation of twitter SPAM routines to get speech content suspended by those who oppose that speech.

Stay tuned.

 

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  • http://twitter.com/ResistTyranny Resist Tyranny

    Thanks for exposing Twitter’s passive complicity – if not outright support for Twitter Gulag.

    • http://brooksbayne.com brooksbayne

      nashville in the house! how’s things, my friend? hot enough for you in middle tn this summer?

      just wait to see what we have coming this week. twitter will have their hands full. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/FarRightOfLeft Randy Hahn

    Finally, the truth is coming out. Great Job Charles, you hit a home run. Brooks, brilliant work.

    • http://brooksbayne.com brooksbayne

      did they ever figure out that the guy they thought you were is dead?

      and thanks, btw. we’ve been spending some cycles on research.

  • http://twitter.com/MoronicQuotes Expose Prochoice

    And thanks for exposing Catshit’s role – I spent a month in the gulag because of her spam block campaigns. I have a screenie of her encouraging others to spam block and report, if you’re interested.

    • http://brooksbayne.com brooksbayne

      oh really? melissaindc aka catsrimportant? weird!

      • http://twitter.com/MoronicQuotes Expose Prochoice

        yep, the very same.

      • http://twitter.com/MoronicQuotes Expose Prochoice

        Catshit (aka Twitler) circulated a list of cons she wanted suspended http://moronicprochoicequotes.blogspot.com/2012/05/twitlers-list.html so I semi DOXed her after she spent 14 straight hours on twitter tweeting my personal info, clowning on my family etc-the screenshot of her calling for spam blocks, appealing to Shoq, Occupy, Anonymous etc are all on that post. You might find it interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/SideTweetz SideTraKd

    You would think that Twitter might have a vested interest in preventing this, since at the very least it makes more work for support to have to reinstate wrongfully suspended accounts. When it first happened to me it was early enough in my “Twitter life” that I nearly walked away, which is probably what the attackers wanted. The first three times they reactivated my account fairly quickly and could not tell me what I had done to merit a suspension. The fourth time was well over 3 weeks, but also reinstated with no explaination from Twitter. No matter how many times I asked them why my account was suspended, I couldn’t get an answer.
    If I was the tech working on @ChrisLoesch account and it went down seconds after I reinstated it due to liberal exploits, I would want blood. Doesn’t seem like anyone payed the price for that one though.

  • http://twitter.com/MoronicQuotes Expose Prochoice

    not to mention all the wasted space on their servers taken bylibtrolls and their thousands of dummy accounts, which will eventually force Twitter to start charging for use, which will eliminate unemployed libtard moron slackers who sit on Twitter all day harassing others, brilliant, aren’t they…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=726790021 Ashley Nicole Ingram

    Kinda sad to see all this teeny bopper like drama spill over into the adult world on Twitter huh?

    • bla bla

      Kinda sad to see Twitter allow and PROFIT from it.

  • http://twitter.com/CryingWolfeBlog CryingWolfeBlog

    Gulaged twice. Got B&R for my arguments with some “conservatives ” after about three minutes…

  • Pingback: Trenches Labs: How #TwitterGulag Works Part 2 – Seeing Active Blocks and Sweeps | The Trenches

  • Pingback: Trenches Labs: How #TwitterGulag Works Part 3 – Report Someone For SPAM 100s Of Times | The Trenches

  • http://twitter.com/NYCGRL4MITT NYCGRL4MITT

    I was suspended twice in 24hrs the day I opened my account (8/29/12-8/30/12). It was reactivated after an hour or so & then suspended again for 24hrs. Twitter said my account was suspended for “unsolicited replies and mentions”, which is ridiculous since posting a tweet is solicitation for a conversation. It’s conservative speech suppression, violates the 1st amendment, and violates the premise of what Twitter is…social media.

    • http://twitter.com/jaydeflix John Eddy

      Actually, it doesn’t violate the 1st Amendment in the least, unless you’re suggesting that Twitter is a Government entity.

      • http://twitter.com/yendoreflow rodney wolfe

        suppression by a public entity is a violation

      • bla bla

        You’re COMPLETELY WRONG. Twitter acts as a platform for free expression and any favoritism or pressure otherwise is a massive problem for Twitter. If they act or allow groups to subvert political expression based on the nature of viewpoint they are in massive trouble.

        Any piece of SHIT that spam blocks or blocks for the purpose of suspending another is a rotten carcass of shit rotting to hell and back. I’d love to get my hands on the smart assholes that pull that crap, I’d tar and feather them, for starters – old school.

  • Pingback: Twitter Gulag Part 4 – the 5G Era and Twitter Nukes | The Trenches

  • ConservativeGirl999

    Thanks for this expose’! I was Gulagged as a newbie and had no idea why because all I did was argue politely with a liberal. We must be very careful now not to get suspended as the election is so close. It would be great if you would also post a “quick read” of this article for those that don’t have time to read the whole article but are Conservatives with important voices who don’t want to get suspended. For instance, from this article, the quick tips would be:

    1. “Don’t use ‘Reply'” and
    2. “Don’t start your Tweet with the @ sign”.

    Thanks! : )

  • Pingback: How #Twittergulag works « Conservative Gulag

  • Pingback: Twitter Prefers Democrats

  • http://www.facebook.com/seldenacree Selden Acree Thorsten

    HELP! I got suspended AGAIN tonight. I was speaking AGAINST a LIB defending a friend and the 3 of us who came in to help ALL got suspended. Last time I was suspended I did the appeals 6x and it took 2 weeks to FINALLY send “Sorry, you were caught up in spam AND welcome back.” By then I had set up another account BUT funny it got SUSPENDED 1 day after 1st account got reinstated.HOW can I get back on? I’ve sent the appeal 7x now and I also got suspended for “mentions”
    How come it seems it’s ONLY Conservative? WHAT can we do? It’s NOT fair to be off for weeks. I guess w/ 7 days left they are gonna try anything.
    What are the DEMwits doing to us? Are we not supposed to “dicuss” with them? I guess not. Yeah, REAL “Free” twitter. ONLY if you’re on the left.
    Anyone can help? Some ppl have sent a “reinstate” for me but nothing as of yet. I person DID get back in.

  • Jackie Doss

    Help. How do I get out of gulag?

    • http://twitter.com/SemperBanU Charlie Johnson

      Hey Jackie – just saw this. If you are suspended you will get an email. Read the instructions carefully and reply to it in the manner it suggests. Do this once and only once – you get placed in line and every time you reply to the email you get sent to the back of the line.

      Then – sadly – you wait. If you want, set up a second account and mention to @SemperBanU that your other account is in TwitterGulag and I will retweet it. Some Twitter folks follow my account and it may help the process along.

  • newjack31622

    This is not a “leftist” issue, much as some partisan shills like to make everything about left/right divisions and diversions. Ive had my account suspended 3 times in 2 months and the tactics above were no doubt used to do so. People of all political stripes know about these lowly tactics so save the “leftist” stuff and just report the facts. You would have much more credibility if you didnt grind a partisan ax(at least not when its completely off base to do so like it is on this story).

  • http://twitter.com/NoamChomsky4 Garden Gnome

    Oh I see. You delete tweets that disagree w/your points of view. What was that you were saying about supporting free speech?

  • http://littlebytesnews.blogspot.com littlebytes

    Just learning about the new #tgldn tag tonight…sounds like a good idea to unite and support fellow conservatives…but how can one get their account to show up in hashtags again? I have basically given up even though I still use tags in my tweets so when I’m retweeted they get seen, but I haven’t been showing up in hashtags for at least two years. I don’t know why they blocked me from showing up in search, but my followers can see my posts and if my posts are retweeted, otherwise they won’t show up in the search. I find this another form of twitter censorship/gulag. I know there are other conservatives that have had this happen to them as well. I gave up trying to resolve it after contacting twitter a couple times and getting no response. Any help on getting it resolved is appreciated. Thanks!

  • Igor Nunya Bizznich

    I have been victim of the reply block before , but my suspensions had only lasted for a few hours & no more. Recently while making humorous responses to the State’s laughable attempts to portray George Zimmerman as a cold blooded killer, I was/am suspended for “aggressive following” when in fact I was simply following people that RTed my jokes and those that followed me and/or have the same group of beliefs/interests. During a “break out” period of popularity on Twitter I was cut down like wheat. They falsely claimed that my increase in follows/followers is indicative of “tweet automation” and they will review my case then get back to me. Why is there a limit to follow/follower #s and if there is then why do some people have million + followers as by stated guidelines this would take hundreds of years to do without being suspended? Please will someone explain via articles like this one above the way in which someone (NOT SPAMMING) can maximize growth potential on Twitter without fear of being put in #TwitterGulag