Twitter has a poor track-record in its treatment of Tor users. Recently, it was hailed with plaudits for turning around and opening an onion. This is a public service announcement: You can ruin yourself if, in a critical moment, you rely on that onion and its presumed implications of Tor-friendliness.
Before I tried the onion, I did do a cursory web search to see if there were any recent user reports of this nature. Such reports could have saved me an awful lot of trouble. Here is mine, for the next person in a similar situation.
I don’t want to come off as deprecating Alec Muffett’s effort. I know that he’s been devoted for years to these onions; this is his baby. Please don’t mistake me as unappreciative when I evaluate the latest results as Twitter playing privacy-theater.
What happened, and where it stands:
A few days ago, I did not have a Twitter account. Yes, really. Some people feel so strongly about privacy that they don’t enjoy spilling their guts on social media.
Now, I face the maelstrom of current events in a financial mass-catastrophe. This doesn’t seem like the right place to be elaborating my position, so I will stick to what’s directly relevant below: A large number of people lost their life’s savings to the total meltdown of a major cryptocurrency network. I’m now involved (and, disclosure: invested with money I first threw in for idealistic reasons). Events are still unfolding. Events are moving fast: Every day, every hour counts! I need a bigger public platform—fast.
Twitter is the only option. Indie websites, Fediverse, etc. will not reach people in a hurry. It is the problem with these centralized platforms—and it is a problem that will not be solved by my silencing myself now.
First step: Create a Twitter account. I asked myself, Should I hide the fact that I am a Tor user?
I’ve been doing this privacy-network stuff for awhile. I could conceal my Tor usage. But I prefer to show my support for Tor—to show that the onion site is used and loved and needed. I know that when a corporation decides how to allocate its resources, “does anyone actually use this thing?” may be asked.
I signed up through the onion site, and spent two precious hours squeezing my message into a tweetstorm: 25 tweets posted as one threaded block, through the web app interface intended for that purpose.
Post. Copy link to first tweet, send it to friend. Tweets after the first don’t show up—no threading. Check it from a Tor Browser instance with no cookies—confirmed, no tweets. Check back logged in myself—I can see my tweets. This is a definitional shadow-ban.
Send message to Twitter support. Not easy, because the help site throws an error when trying to contact support through the onion; that’s a bug. Log in through clearnet site, jump through “safety” hoops to get back into my account, message support. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking…
Now, two days later and after multiple messages to Twitter support, my initial tweets are still sneakily suppressed in the manner of a shadow-ban. I need them restored, fully visible with proper threading—it’s not happening. The Twitter account itself seems to be working—maybe?—but I don’t know what to do with it, if anything at all. Dealing with this has been a time sink, at a time when my attention is pulled in a dozen directions and every moment is precious.
My tweets address matters of public importance, including my calling out various parties for wrongdoing that is both reprehensible and flatly illegal. I made my case in a tone suitable for civil discourse—you may judge my approach from the tone of this hereby post. My tweets violated none of Twitter’s rules. And besides, it happened too fast for a human review to have been possible. A robot took my urgent message about breaking current events, and sneakily semi-trashed it in such a way that only I can read it.
There are only two possible causes, perhaps in combination:
I am a Tor user. I used the onion. Twitter and its robo-mod systems have a longtime, well-known, trigger-happy bias against Tor users. Why do they have an onion?
My tweets made copious mention of cryptocurrency. That is unavoidable: I am calling out wrongdoing by a cryptocurrency project that lost people their life savings, and is now trying to get away with more money. A platform for public discussion is entirely useless, if it cannot be used to name, blame, and shame cryptocurrency scams without incurring a shadow-ban. What other issues of public interest will trigger the mod-bot? Will your important issue trigger it in some way that you never even considered?
Although #2 may be a factor, I think that #1 must have been decisive. After all, it’s probably not news to anyone that Twitter is chock-full of talk about cryptocurrency.
No exaggeration, and not to be melodramatic: Relying on Twitter and its onion may actually be one of the worst mistakes I have ever made in my life. Think of the proverbial horseshoe nail.
Tor users: Beware. It’s privacy-theater. The tweety-leopard may have rubbed some onion juice on itself, but it has not changed its spots.