Twitter Bitcoin hack reveals platform’s secret tools to blacklist search results, trends
July 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Wednesday’s hack of more than 130 Twitter accounts by Bitcoin scammers sent the internet into a temporary panic, but the aftermath brought a more alarming revelation: evidence of Twitter’s ability to shadow-ban trends as well as users, as well as the implication that it has the power to directly hijack users’ accounts.
On Wednesday afternoon, numerous high-profile accounts such as those of former President Barack Obama, celebrity Kim Kardashian, Microsoft head Bill Gates, and companies such as Apple and Uber tweeted suspicious messages offering thousands of dollars in exchange for sending money to Bitcoin addresses, the BBC reported.
According to Twitter, a total of 130 accounts were compromised by hackers who had managed to gain access to the platform’s internal administrative tools, though it remains unconfirmed whether hackers took control remotely or got someone within Twitter to do so. The FBI has opened an investigation into the incident over potential national-security concerns.
We know they used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf. We’re looking into what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed and will share more here as we have it.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) July 16, 2020
We’re working with impacted account owners and will continue to do so over the next several days. We are continuing to assess whether non-public data related to these accounts was compromised, and will provide updates if we determine that occurred.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) July 17, 2020
After the attack, leaked screenshots surfaced of an internal Twitter control panel, which includes buttons labeled “Trends Blacklist” and “Search Blacklist,” Vice reported. Twitter has taken to deleting copies of the screenshot posted on the platform.
The screenshots, as well as the implication that some Twitter employees have the capability to directly post from users’ accounts without their knowledge or consent, sparked a new wave of concern across social media:
I can't post the linked screenshots from Twitter's admin panel but I have to ask— Tim Pool (@Timcast) July 16, 2020
What is "search blacklist" and "trends blacklist" pic.twitter.com/f6DAw3zzqu
BREAKING: Alleged leaked pictures from the Twitter admin control panel that was compromised showcase the buttons ‘Trends Blacklist’ and ‘Search Blacklist’, indicating Twitter DOES have the ability to shadowban it’s users.— Mike Coudrey (@MichaelCoudrey) July 16, 2020
So Twitter controls accounts and has easy-to-use buttons to throttle accounts they don't like, blacklist people from search. I wonder what else they can do.— Melissa Mackenzie (@MelissaTweets) July 16, 2020
It's not algorithms, it's young people deciding who and what gets heard, seen, and shared.
Twitter has been the subject of numerous free-speech and political discrimination controversies for years, most recently with its aggressive measures to to police dissenting viewpoints on COVID-19 under the guise of “preventing misinformation,” and its “fact-check” and “glorifying violence” warnings added to tweets by President Donald Trump.
Of particular concern has been the practice of shadow-banning, or preventing a user’s content from appearing in other users’ feeds, but giving the target no indication that his account has been flagged, restricted, or otherwise affected. In 2018, Twitter came under fire over revelations that numerous prominent Republicans had been excluded from its drop-down menu meant to simplify searching for specific people (with the victims’ Democratic counterparts not being similarly affected). An undercover video from Project Veritas captured Twitter Trust & Safety policy manager Olinda Hassan saying “we’re trying to get the shitty people to not show up,” and contains former Twitter software engineer Abhinav Vadrevu admitting, “Our strategy is to shadow ban so that you have ultimate control.”