Hidden Twitter: Suspensions and the Ideological U-Turn

Popzazzle | Sunday, 7 February 2021 |

"We're evidently seeing a new level of pretence somewhere along the line. It's a personality flatpack."


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Photo by Akshar Dave on Unsplash.

By Bob Leggitt
© Popzazzle
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Would you change who you are in order to win digital applause on Twitter? I don't mean be a bit more like this, or a bit more like that. I mean completely U-turn on your core self-definition, and effectively become the person you've been passionately opposing for the past five years.

Some people do. And it might be a lot more people than you think.

Three or four years ago, I would have disputed this, based mainly on the fact that you never see a Twitter argument end with: “Ah, now I see that you're right, and I am wrong! I will modify my stance accordingly”. It just doesn't happen. People are so doggedly opposed to losing a Twitter argument that they would rather flush their phone down the toilet than admit to being wrong.

But there's a very particular event horizon at which a dramatic ideological metamorphosis is not only possible without any need to backtrack, but also highly viable. That event horizon, is the point of suspension.

COPING WITH A TWITTER SUSPENSION


Have you ever considered what people do after they get suspended? How they deal with it? I mean, if you're posting more than a hundred Tweets a day, and a member of the Twitter mod team suddenly says: “Nope, that's enough; you're banned”, what happens to your life?

I'm guessing you don't just say “Oh well, better get a ball and racket and take up solo squash then.” No. If you're posting more than a hundred Tweets a day, every day, and you're not doing it for money, I won't say you're addicted, but you have a degree of dependency on that process. It's become a routine, and routine is hard to break.

It would be unrealistic to imagine that people who use social media out of a need for attention, are going to cease needing that attention after they're suspended. They're often people who don't have a life beyond social media. And that's not me speculating - it comes, in many cases, from the horse's mouth, either implied or explicit. So it's not just a dependency on the egotistical buzz of opinionating, etc - it's frequently also a lack of any alternative.

THE COMEBACK


We know people come back after suspension. We see them come back, so the comeback itself is not in dispute. When this happens visibly, however, the user comes back in recognisable form. Same identity, less abuse. They've learned a lesson, filtered out the worst of their behaviour, and come back with the intention of rebuilding what they had before. They're gonna read the rules, and pay attention. All's well that ends well.... ish.

But others, we never see again. Or don't think we see again. When I began this study in 2019, it was with the question: “Where do they go?” Are the suspended folks who apparently disappear really accepting that the pastime in which they've been engrossed for months, or even years on end, is over? Or are they returning reinvented? New identity, new strategy?

Even if you're very detective-minded and are good at tracking changes on social media, finding someone who has completely reinvented themselves after a suspension can be extremely difficult. To find someone coming back with the same strategy as before, I'd use advanced search to look at the incoming mentions and replies TO the people they were previously Tweeting. It's amazing how easy it is to spot a returning suspendee using this method. But only if they've come back with the same strategy and ideological identity.

If they've made a full ideological U-turn, that method breaks down. They no longer have anything to gain from Tweeting their old allies. They're going to align themselves with new people. And the very fact that they're now extolling the opposite set of values will throw most recognised detective processes off the scent.

OKAY, BUT WHY WOULD SOMEONE MAKE AN IDEOLOGICAL U-TURN?


For one, they've learned that their old ideological package is a route to suspension. They don't want to spend another year rebuilding, only to experience the same result.

But the most compelling reasoning behind the theory that banned Twitter users commonly adopt completely new value sets, is based around the fact that the need for attention always comes first. We're talking about people whose primary motivation is not to improve society, or better understand the world, or reach a scientific conclusion with the aid of debate. It's to pleasure their ego on a public forum. Everything else is secondary to that.

And in fact, the ideological packages that people are using as a digital climbing frame are so biased, hypocritical and generally demented, that no one with an IQ of above 90 could possibly have a genuine belief in all of their components. The ideological packages are designed to appeal to people who are too stupid to question or think about them. That's how rabble-rousing works. It plays on the inability of the mass audience to think critically.

So if you're capable of any critical thinking at all, you're going to reject a sizeable chunk of the controversial ideological packages doing the rounds on Twitter.

Which means that any intelligent person extolling these codged up assemblies of rampantly stupid, one-sided idealism, is only pretending to believe in them. Because rabble-rousing equals attention, and attention comes first. It's only a very short distance from pretending to accept one ideological package, to pretending to accept another. Especially if the newly-adopted ideological package appears to offer better potential for profile-raising and/or egotistical victory, and the person in question has reached the event horizon of total erasure.

If your priority is ego-massage, and you're starting at the bottom, with nothing to lose, you're going to pick the route you see as most productive. Your previous route ended in a crash. Is it not at least possible that you'll select an alternative route this time?

ANY ACTUAL EVIDENCE THAT THIS HAPPENS THO?


It's quite rare to find a comprehensive admission, but believe it or not they do arise. Some of the best searches for finding those admissions are focused on keywords that people might use when they're talking about Twitter policy. It's in discussions about Twitter policy that people sometimes revisit the bitter experience of a suspension. And much of the time they're not using the word “suspended” to refer to it. I've found phrases like “other account” more useful as search terms. You have to work backwards. Find the why-I-got-suspended first, and then see if the reason for suspension matches the current ideological stance. If you look hard enough, you will find evidence of blatant U-turns.

Another trick you can try is searching for a phrase like “when I was a [belief system classification]”, and then observing how far away from that classification the person has ventured. For example: “when I was a feminist”, “when I was a rightist”, “when I was a leftist”, “when I was a Christian”, “when I was an atheist”, etc. This isn't to say that these classifications are in themselves “codged up assemblies of rampantly stupid idealism”. But they're more searchable than the really demented ideological sub groups that exist within them.

And they're only the starting point. The real story is where the subject has gone since being in one of these broad groups. At the time of writing you can fairly quickly find former male feminists who are now massive male chauvinists. I mean... MASSIVE!... To the point where one of them was retweeting a meme telling women to obediently serve men. And no, it's not a parody account.

It can't all be real. You can't go from feminism to that, purely based on your own inner value system. If you can even consider the concept of retweeting whilst looking at a meme like that, you were never anywhere near the doorstep of feminism, let alone “a feminist”. So we're evidently seeing a new level of pretence somewhere along the line. It's a personality flatpack. “Here's what I need to think about this... Here's what I need to think about that.” People call social media “me culture”, but when the pretence goes this far, there is no longer a “me”. The “me” has been replaced by a broken record of someone else's making.

It's common to find a fairly recent join date on accounts that show obvious evidence of an ideological shift. Coupled with the user's extensive knowledge of Twitter, this is a hallmark of probable suspension. The investigation process is like doing a jigsaw. Fitting all the pieces together, and finding that in nearly every case, the ideological revisions are happening at the event horizon of suspension - or at least, immediately prior to the setup of a new account.

We don't know the scale on which this happens. It's obviously not something everyone does, but some people do it, and in an environment with widespread anonymity, it's bound to be a lot more prevalent than we can find evidence to confirm. The motivation for most people who significantly contradict themselves will surely be to bury the inconvenient past, and that's what I believe the vast majority of reinvented comeback candidates do.

HOW SHOULD WE INTERPRET THIS?


The generally unrecognised phenomenon of ideological U-turn in the social networking sphere raises uncomfortable truths. It's not just that the promise of public applause can so easily persuade Twitter users to extol a message they oppose. Or even just that this message can be unnecessarily cruel and/or abusive. It's the way that the status-sensitive structure of social media so drastically magnifies the impetus for people to do this.

It didn't and doesn't happen on traditional forums and message boards, because with those sites, users have never been dependent on group approval for visibility. Twitter is a place where most users have to win the approval of a specific group even to be realistically visible, and that's a problem no one really confronts. It's Twitter's structural suppression of ideas, unless they meet with group approval, that forces everything down to the lowest common denominator. Which is, as we know very well, extremely low.

Ultimately, people will not behave as you tell them to behave. They will behave as you motivate them to behave. And however you try to frame it, social media motivates terrible behaviour. That's not to excuse individual users who know they're fuelling hatred and do it regardless. But it's the way Twitter works that forces the most attention-hungry people to become bizarre playback machines for value sets that would not dare speak their name in the real world.
Bob 'Interesting' Leggitt is a print-published writer, multi-instrumentalist and twice Guitarist of the Year finalist, Google-certified digital marketer, image manipulation expert, virtual musical instrument builder, "Twitter detective", and author of successful blogs such as Planet Botch, Twirpz and Tape Tardis. | [Twitter] | [Contact Details]