Guilt by Twitter association — how Labour Left Voice blocked swathes of Twitter

One Corbynite Twitter account has been blocking great swathes of Twitter - and thus created a manual filter bubble.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

It's a cliché to say that Twitter isn't what it used to be. And it's become a cliché because it's true. But any sense that Twitter is a place for discussion or status updates, rather than an arena for political battles and attention-seeking gets harder to find.

And I appear to have been accidentally swept up in the latest kerfuffle. I've been blocked by an account that, as far as I remember, I have never interacted with.

I'd normally say that nobody should be too concerned about this. As a campaigning outfit, bordering on the propagandist, Labour Left Voice clearly has no interest in conversation. They're not there to interact — they're there to assert and fight. Thus, they bring no value to most people's timelines, other than as a rallying point for the faithful. They are preachers servicing the converted. And the same is true of far too many political accounts across the left and right.

However, there is an additional element here that makes it interesting, and possibly more troubling:

The trend was sparked when the Jewish Labour Movement’s Rebecca File tweeted a screenshot showing she had been blocked by LLV.  JLM colleague Jack Mayorcas responded by quoting her message, adding: “If you are Jewish and have also been blocked by @lableftvoice despite never interacting with them, please add to the thread”.

And the number is significant. You can explore it yourself from here:

However, given the number of people tweeting on the #notjewish hashtag that they are, well, not jewish and also blocked, despite never having interacted with this account, there must be some sort of block list being generated here. And clearly not just on racial grounds.

But where from?

Guilt by Following

Beth Granter has an interesting theory as to where the block list is being generated from:

If that's the case - then that's an interesting approach. Treat everyone that follows an opposed individual as suspect?

That's a very social media twist on guilt by association, isn't it?

The follower of my enemy is my enemy

Having compared my follows with a couple of other Twitter friends who have also been blocked, I suspect the person we "associated" with is actually a political site that we all most likely follow for professional rather than ideological reasons.

And this is the problem with the approach Labour Left Voice have taken here. People follow accounts for all sorts of reasons, including historic acquaintance, or journalistic interest. Some people automatically follow everyone who follows them back. Some follow their political enemies, to keep tabs on them.

Blocking everyone who follows the people you dislike is going to remove an awful lots of bystanders for a multitude of reasons.

And, while I've been working on this post, the account has pretty much confirmed that theory:

Yes, they're using a tool called Twitter Block Chain to automatically block any followers of accounts they consider problematic - or abusive.

It's a fascinating example of a self-created filter bubble at work. This account is actively seeking to remove any dissenting, opposing or abusive views from their timeline — but taking a whole bunch of unrelated folks with it.

Of course, this being Twitter, there's always somebody ahead of the pack…

X (Twitter)Politicsfilter bubble

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.