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.
[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.”
Those shots were taken right after so u can c the pink banner on each which says u r suspended. Here LG and SB high 5 twitter.com/SemperBanU/sta…
— Charlie Johnson (@SemperBanU) June 5, 2012
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:
— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) June 8, 2012
We even pressed the CEO of Twitter Dick Costolo (@DickC) on the point. His response:
@xcitizen10 that is simply not true and not how spam suspension works. It’s more sophisticated than that and we suspend, not 3rd parties
— dick costolo (@dickc) June 28, 2012
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:
— Erin Gobra (@Erin_Gobra) July 16, 2012
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.
— Erin Gobra (@Erin_Gobra) July 16, 2012
The target account @sikklecell01 did reply to Erin to which Erin replied back (and typo’d “based” as “pased”)
Well @sikklecell01 I won’t ask u for help finding a job in stand up pased on that pathetic comeback
— Erin Gobra (@Erin_Gobra) July 16, 2012
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:
— Cats Are Important (@catsrimportant) July 16, 2012
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.