(Photo: REUTERS / Tim Chong)
A number of controversial Twitter accounts have been shut down over the past two days.
NDAA, SOPA, Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous may be off-limits on Twitter. As Twitter users who extensively discuss those topics continue to find their accounts being shut down or otherwise restricted, it seems increasingly likely that the phenomenon is more than a coincidence.
My Twitter account was severely limited for a little less than an hour Monday afternoon in a pattern of what appears to be censorship sweeping across the social media site.
The account limitations were imposed shortly after I published a story looking into infringements on the accounts of Twitter users who have been criticizing the National Defense Authorization Act and the Stop Online Privacy Act--or backing OWS or Anonymous--too fiercely.
At 11:06 a.m. Monday I published "NDAA and SOPA: Are Provisions of These Bills Already Impacting Web Users?" on the International Business Times website.
The story regaled the tale of Business Insider reporter David Seaman, who announced in a Sunday column that his Twitter account had been shut down earlier that day, and that he believed it had been shuttered because he had been "talking too much about Occupy Wall Street ... and talking too much about the controversial detainment without trial provisions contained in the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act."
The story went on to explain that his account was reopened later that day and that Twitter explained that he had been erroneously shut down for spamming. But Seaman and others believe something more sinister may be afoot.
At about 12:30 p.m. Monday I noticed that my Twitter had stopped performing properly. I was unable to access any Twitter users' profile pages, including that of the New York Times, the New York Yankees and other users whose accounts have not been compromised.
Instead of being taken to the profile pages of users I clicked on, I was instead sent to a generic Twitter page bearing the same message each time: "Sorry that page doesn't exist."
I verified that the profiles that were coming up as nonexistent on my Twitter were working properly elsewhere by having two of my colleagues bring them up without incident on their own accounts.
I tweeted Seaman at 12:39 p.m. Monday about my predicament, and he retweeted me to his followers. The Tweet spread to a few other followers while I was at lunch, and when I returned at about 2:00 p.m. my account had been restored to full functionality. Was it because awareness had been raised about the restriction and Twitter wanted to avoid negative publicity? That's impossible to determine, as Twitter has not responded to a request for comment I sent Monday morning.
"Brian" (Twitter handle @weezmgk) at the Citizen Media Guild wrote an article Monday that took Seaman to task for allegedly spreading "innuendo and conspiracy theory," alleging that he decimated his credibility with his Sunday piece for Business Insider.
"This is what we in the biz call being a hack," Brian alleged in the piece, which did not even disclose the author's last name. "When you depart from the facts and rely on fact-free innuendo (notably that Twitter are somehow in cahoots with the government) to carry your tale, you're not a journalist, you're a gossipy propagandist and should really consider presenting your CV to Fox News or Andrew Breitbart."
But the fact of the matter is Seaman's article was an opinion piece, and he only went so far as to point to what is now becoming an alarming trend, stopping short of saying he had proof of a systematic effort to censor Twitter users.
And the assertion that he was spamming seems to be a tenuous one, as a log of his account posted by Twitter user @sickjew shows what appears to be a spam-free list of Tweets leading up to the suspension.
In fact, Seaman and I are not the only two Twitter users who have been vocal on OWS, NDAA, SOPA, Anonymous and other controversial issues to experience mysterious Twitter service disruptions, account shutdowns or more in the past two days. And it has all happened while OWS continues to rage nationwide, NDAA awaits President Barack Obama's signature and SOPA is before the U.S. Congress.
Twitter user @Kallisti tweeted that she attempted to Tweet Seaman's Sunday piece and was thwarted in her efforts, instead being greeted by an error message telling her "Something is technically wrong--Thanks for noticing. We're going to fix it and have things back to normal soon."
Other users have faced similar issues, and a number of people have reported their accounts being closed, including @occupybay_2, whose account remained closed as of 3:45 p.m. Monday.
The trend is an unprecedented one, as Twitter user @aliceleuchte said in a prescient comment she posted on Seaman's Sunday article.
"In my experience on Twitter, I have never seen accounts (via RT attempts) just disappear," she wrote. "This was the first time I had run across such 'glitches' and all the user tweets had contained the #NDAA tag. Given other various timely 'glitches,' as with trends, this error is 'unfortunate.'"
This article is copyrighted by International Business Times, the business news leader