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There is a lot of debate over Musk's recent actions with Twitter, which basically boils down to whether it is better allowing freedom of expression and/or countering Twitter's previous left leaning bias or whether he is intentionally adding a right leaning bias to Twitter, which answer you're told is true depends on if you happen to be on Fox News's or CNN's website. I am not asking which is true, and in fact ask that we not get bogged down on debate about that fact!

Groups claiming that Musk is adding a right leaning bias to the site often point to Musk's unbanning of Trump and a number of far-right individuals recently. Musk claims this was a neutral act of encouraging free speech by being less restrictive in allowed speech ("New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach."), his opponents claim it's an intentional favoring of extremists conservative voices intended to help spread hate/misinformation/etc.

One obvious metric for determining which claim is true, which I've yet to see any side bring up, is whether Musk unbanned traditionally liberal accounts as well as conservative ones, i.e., was he being selective in his unbanning or truly unbanning everyone.

I thus have three, related, questions about his unbanning of what I'll call 'left' accounts.

  1. Has he unbanned any left leaning accounts (I assume this one will be true)
  2. Has the number of left leaning unbanned accounts close to equal to the number of right leaning accounts (I suspect this is false, see bullet point)
  3. Has the ratio of unbanned right vs left accounts been proportionate to the ratio of previously banned right to left accounts. *

* I believe there is a good chance that there were more right favoring accounts banned then left favoring accounts pre Musk, and no I don't want to get into an argument whether that is due to Twitter's bias or right leaning accounts more likely to violate Twitter's rules right now. The third question is mostly to adjust for this potential discrepancy, if more right leaning accounts were banned to start with then more would be expected to be unbanned even if Musk wasn't targeting right leaning accounts explicitly. Thus only a ratio comparing unbanned to previously banned accounts can say whether Musk was being selective in which accounts to unban.

Let me stress I'm asking only if Musk was being selective in his choice of accounts to unban. I realize there is a whole separate debate about whether, even if he was not selective, such an unban process is justified or wise, but I don't want to get into that now. I only want to know what facts say about whether he was selectively favoring right leaning accounts when the unbanning process happened.

I'm looking for facts, not opinion, so I'd prefer links to credible sources if possible. I realize the third question may be hard to answer, especially given the grey area inherent in trying to define an account as 'right' or 'left'. I'll accept the best possible answer I get even if it doesn't fully answer all three questions, but I hope I might get a comprehensive answer to all three.

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    I'm not sure the numbers are available or widely known if they are at the time of the question's writing. I am aware that Kathy Griffen was listed as an account that was unbanned and she is definitely on the left. Additionally, some accounts may have been banned that were labeled as "Right Wing" by those justifying the ban but the account owner would not identify as "right wing" which can cause an issue. Additionally, it's unclear which accounts were shadow banned and had the shadow bans lifted following the purchase deal but before the effective date of the hand off.
    – hszmv
    Dec 14, 2022 at 17:20
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    @JonathanReez hszmz already named one before your comment was even posted so...yes I can :P
    – dsollen
    Dec 14, 2022 at 17:40
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    @JoeW Given the number of governments that utilize twitter, such as Trump did as president, I think it would matter, but I also think it's a moot point. I'm asking a question about politics, politics isn't limited to government run agencies. Musk's actions are viewed as politically motivated by both sides, with it's acceptability depending on which political side you happen to favor. I think that clearly indicates politics are involved when people talk about twitter. I can ask about political bias or attempts to measure it regardless of rather twitter is owned by the government or not.
    – dsollen
    Dec 14, 2022 at 17:47
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    @dsollen I think you also might run into trouble is that the bans and unbans might not be documented because the user's account was not note worthy enough to be covered at either stage of the cycle. I'm sure Twitter themselves would have the metrics, but that assumes that the metrics they give any inquires to public relations are factual this time.
    – hszmv
    Dec 14, 2022 at 18:01
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    @JoeW Given the evidence coming to light in the last few days that Twitter actively coordinated with the US government - having weekly meetings - this question most certainly is in scope. I can understand why pro-censorship persons would want this rock to remain unturned.
    – Just Me
    Dec 15, 2022 at 18:26

2 Answers 2

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This is a frame challenge, namely on the idea that Twitter being politically unbiased towards right/left is equivalent to Twitter banning/unbanning equally many far-right and far-left accounts. This is not true and there isn't any reason why one should expect this to be true.

First it is not clear that Twitter usage or number of Twitter accounts in total is distributed equally between right and left. Abstractly if yellow team has considerably more users that cyan team one should expect an unbiased banning procedure to ban considerably more yellow team users.

Second no Twitter users get banned for being far-right or far-left. Account bans are handed out for a number of violations like inciting violence or spreading obvious falsehoods. None of these criteria is in itself political. If team yellow gets a lot more account bans than team cyan this could be because the rules are not applied in a neutral way or it could be because team yellow breaks the rules a lot more often. Just counting the number of bans does not tell you which of these is true.

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    None of these criteria is in itself political => we have solid proof that at least some of the bans were in fact strictly political. Dec 22, 2022 at 15:25
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    @JonathanReez Reading through this twitter feed I don't see any solid proof whatsoever. Trump triggered the rules for an account ban multiple times. Twitter decided not to ban inspite of this because he was a sitting political leader. The moment he ceased to be he was banned the same way anyone else would have with his record of rule violations.
    – quarague
    Dec 22, 2022 at 15:31
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    It's solid proof that Twitter's official reason for banning Trump was made up and they knew it. Whether or not he still deserved the ban is a judgement call but the official reason was entirely bogus. Dec 22, 2022 at 15:33
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    @JonathanReez So are you doubting that Trump violated Twitters code of conduct and should not have been banned? Or are you saying he was banned and other users with similar rule violations where not because of his political leanings? To me if anything the Trump case looks like pro-right-bias by Twitter, anyone else with his kind of behavior would have been banned much quicker than he was.
    – quarague
    Dec 22, 2022 at 15:48
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    He didn't violate Twitter's rule to a sufficient degree to justify the ban, no. Hence the official justification of "inciting violence", which was known to be false by Twitter's leadership. Dec 22, 2022 at 15:55
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Let's start by making a list of accounts banned under the following conditions:

  1. Account had a clear political bias (so something like @ElonJet doesn't count)
  2. Belonged to a person/organization based in the US
  3. Had more than 50k followers
  4. The ban was still in place when Musk took over (Oct 27th 2022) or was a permanent ban introduced under Musk's leadership
  5. The ban wasn't due to tweets that directly called for violence or which had explicit hate speech (i.e. Kanye West)

As per the Wiki page on notable suspensions, on the Republican/Right wing side we have dozens of right-wing accounts to choose from, of which some of the most notable are:

  1. Donald Trump (US President) - reinstated. If you believe that he was banned for "inciting riots", see the refutation in the Twitter Files.
  2. Marjorie Taylor Greene (US Congresswoman) - reinstated
  3. Michael Flynn (former US General) - still banned
  4. Project Veritas - reinstated
  5. Mike Lindell (CEO of MyPillow) - reinstated
  6. Robert Malone (US virologist - technically Independent) - reinstated
  7. [Post-Musk] Susan Li (worked for Fox Business, likely Republican)

On the Democrat/left-wing side the only known accounts are:

  1. Krassenstein brothers: both Brian and Ed were reinstated. In addition to being notable anti-Trump activists, they've cofounded HillReporter.com which is a liberal news site.
  2. [Post-Musk] Chris Kluwe (known for defending gay marriage)
  3. [Post-Musk] Chad Loder (anti-fascist activist)
  4. [Post-Musk] CrimethInc (anarchist group)

So prior to Musk there has been only 1 notable instance of a left-wing account being banned, which was reversed. After Musk took over, there have been 3 permanent bans to left-wing accounts and 1 permanent ban to a right-wing account. It's a small sample size but we can confirm that:

  1. Twitter was biased against right-wing accounts pre-Musk, as proven by the fact that only 1 major left-wing account was ever banned without a good reason.
  2. Musk suspended 3 left-wing accounts permanently during his tenure and 1 right-wing account. If this trend continues one could say Musk is biased against left-wing accounts but currently there's just not enough data.
  3. Musk indeed unsuspended numerous right-wing accounts but that's primarily because Twitter never banned left-wing accounts before he took over.
  4. Overall freedom of speech on the platform has increased (unless you care about accounts tracking private jets)
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    The very small list of accounts considered here really makes it hard to draw any conclusions, especially when the entire "left" side consists of two accounts which are so closely related Twitter was always going to unban both or neither. Dec 16, 2022 at 9:18
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    The very limited data from this answer doesn't support the conclusion that "the unbanning seems very much fair", given that thousands of accounts were unbanned, many of which were part of the far-right.
    – tim
    Dec 21, 2022 at 16:48
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    @tim I've listed the top-5 right wing accounts, not all such accounts. The full list of unbanned right wing accounts would indeed be very long. Can you name at least one more notable left-wing account that was banned pre-Musk? I keep asking and no one is able to come up with more examples, they just complain my answer is biased. Come on, surely one more example exists if you're right? Dec 21, 2022 at 16:56
  • I appreciate your adjustment based off of my criticism thank you. However, I simply cannot agree with the last point when Musk has banned (and hasn't fully unbanned) news agencies for reporting on his actions, one reporter for simply asking for an interview, and anyone that even mentions his competition exists. That's not in scope of my specific question, but there is clear evidence that there are bans on speech that makes your final conclusion so suspect as to weaken any other argument you make by making you appear to have entered with a forgone conclusion you wanted.
    – dsollen
    Dec 23, 2022 at 13:58
  • @dsollen which news agencies remain banned? I’ve listed all the notable remaining bans from Wiki, only two journalists remain banned, no news agency accounts. Dec 23, 2022 at 14:07

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