Twitter is holding me hostage

“Resistance is futile”

Summary

I opened an account on Twitter where I had none and got suspended without justification before I could do anything. Now my name shows up (it didn’t before!) as someone who violates Twitter rules (I didn’t!) and was accordingly suspended.

I tried to boost my visibility via social media but ended up hurting it: people have referred to my handle but anyone who looks at it will see a suspended account with no activity

Motivation

I consider most social media to be harmful at the individual and societal level. A position I can afford because, while I sometime rant against events organized solely on Facebook, I am lucky to be in an environnement where I can avoid them and remain socially connected.

Recent discussions and readings made me reconsider this position when it comes to Twitter. While I can wave it off my personal life and lose nothing, evidence piles up that for my professional career in academia, having a presence on twitter matters, notably to improve cites [1, 2] and to be informed of new papers before/as they are published.

I was convinced to open a Twitter account about a month ago, mid 2020. My research advisor was speaking in a conference of high attendance and presented joint work. After the talk he asked me for my account so that he could cite me when twitting the article he mentioned. I could have replied that I didn’t want or need an account, but my advisor’s account has over 20k followers – including pretty much anywhere I could imagine myself applying after a PhD – and declining seemed so unwise I created an account and sent an email on the spot.

The downfall

Opening an account was a pleasant experience and done in less than a minute. The “phone number” field is optional: while I don’t doubt they already have it (as of this writing the android app requires contact access), this was meant to be a professional account and I consider my phone number personal so I was happy to be given the possibility not to fill that field.

I proceeded to add two pictures of me, update my profile a bit, and follow my research advisor. Then I could do nothing else. My account was immediately suspended and I received an email stating: “Your account appears to have exhibited automated behavior that violates the Twitter Rules”. Trying to log it now required my phone number. Given the process so far, I thought I could do without so instead I chose to click the “contact support” link and wrote a gentle note saying that I did not have a phone number to giveThis was probably a bad call, but I stand by the fact that (i) I was implicitly promised that it would not be a requirement, and (ii) I do not have a “professional” phone number and giving my personal one seemed innapropriate

, but that my account was legitimate nonetheless. After having to confirm my email address once more, I didn’t hear a thing from Twitter, ever. I wrote follow up emails after two weeks, then waited more, to no avail. Eventually my email received an automated response: “You tried to update a case that has been closed. Please submit a new case at http://support.twitter.com/forms”, which I did.

The hostage situation

Up until now, looking for me on Twitter resulted in not finding me, which I’m fine with. Where it gets messy is that for the past month, if you look for me you’ll see an account that has both my face and the text “Account suspended: Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules”. In a very Kafkaesque way, no one but twitter know which rule I violated or how (recall, I didn’t have time to do anything!), and I don’t know how to redeem myself in Twitter’s eyes.

I should have known better: this part of why I think current big social media are harmful: they’re not public spaces and have to answer to close to no one. Twitter is free to do whatever they want on their website, and ultimately they get to decide who has a say. But still, I find what they did rather odd: they have such a dominant position that the incentives to register were stronger than my (very strong!) dislike of the website. This is a net win for them: I could have been part of the snowball, and maybe take other people around me who are Twitter-sceptics. Yet instead of rewarding me for making the jump and embracing their newly gained user, they crushed me, leaving a sour taste of abuse of power.

What I’ll do

I don’t think there’s much I can do. The dark pattern “no phone required” into “if you don’t give a phone you’ll get banned” won’t look good if looked into seriously by the French DGCCRF (consumers’ protection) but I doubt they will lift a finger, and even if they did we’re talking long timescale. I could create another account, “give up my phone”, but then I’d also give up the handle and the tweets that already reference it. I can forever give up on twitter after being bitten exactly by what I feared would bite me.

Edit: Update mid-September

Waiting for an update, so far I didn’t do anything except, every other week, trying to submit a request again. I get automatic (accurate) replies in the form of “It looks like this is connected with your original case , so we’ve added it to that first report.” and that’s it.

Edit: Update early-October

Nothing to report except automatic “acknowledgement” emails (as if…)

Edit: Update late-October

I sent yet another email, though at this point I don’t have much hope.

I also noticed that on the “The Twitter Rules” page they indicate there’s a section with a link that reads:

Learn more about our approach to enforcement, including potential consequences for violating these rules or attempting to circumvent enforcement, as well as how to appeal.

I still don’t know why I was suspended, but I though it work to click on the link to learn more about the appeal procedure. It leads to this page: a quick ctrl+f indicates that, at the time of writing at least, there’s nothing there about any appeal procedure…


[1] Eysenbach, G. 2011. Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. Journal of medical Internet research. 13, 4 (2011), e123.

[2] Luc, J.G., Archer, M.A., Arora, R.C., Bender, E.M., Blitz, A., Cooke, D.T., Hlci, T.N., Kidane, B., Ouzounian, M., Varghese Jr, T.K. and others 2020. Does tweeting improve citations? One-year results from the tssmn prospective randomized trial. The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. (2020).