A number of Twitter users are claiming the platform is purging itself of conservative viewpoints as some lost thousands of followers last night. Richard Spencer, writer Mark Pantano and Candace Owens of Turning Point USA were among those spreading the #TwitterLockOut hashtag campaign and claiming that only conservative accounts were being targeted.
Did anyone get a "heads up" up from @Twitter @TwitterSupport prior to them purging followers?— 🇺🇸MFLYNNJR🇺🇸 (@mflynnJR) February 21, 2018
I'd give them benefit of doubt but they've been caught too many times censoring conservative accounts#TwitterLockOut https://t.co/Wi1q9KdAb7
I've lost close to 1,000 followers offer the past few hours.— Richard 🐉 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) February 21, 2018
Major purge underway.
Twitter is currently purging the followers on conservative accounts only. I just lost 3000 followers in one minute. Check out the trending hashtag to confirm that it is ONLY conservative accounts that are being affected.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) February 21, 2018
Holding for an explanation...#twitterlockout
The war on Conservatives is real.#TwitterLockOut— Mark Pantano (@TheMarkPantano) February 21, 2018
However, others, including National March for Truth organizer Holly Figueroa O'Reilly and Republican political strategist Rick Wilson have said that the accounts being deleted were Russian bots and that conservative accounts weren't the only ones losing followers over the purge.
#MAGA, come on.— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) February 21, 2018
*People* aren't being purged.
BOTS are being purged.
If your friend's account says "temporarily restricted", that just means they have to log in to prove they are a real person.
And it isn't just happening to conservatives. 🙄🙄🙄#TwitterLockOut#WednesdayWisdom pic.twitter.com/ZTy1ysEvkN
A Twitter spokesperson has now weighed in saying, "Twitter's tools are apolitical, and we enforce our rules without political bias. As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviors that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse. We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it. That's why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone." The company also pointed to this page which details its enforcement actions.
Twitter removes swaths of fake accounts from time to time and last night's deletions are nothing new. They're also very unlikely to be a targeting of Twitter's conservative base. Last month, Twitter appeared to delete thousands of accounts that followed celebrities and popular Twitter users following a New York Times report on Devumi and its selling of fake followers and artificial engagement. Some have speculated that yesterday's account removals were related to Robert Mueller's investigation of election meddling by Russian agents and the indictment of several Russian nationals allegedly involved in mass social media campaigns aimed at causing political strife in the US.
#TwitterLockOut was still a top trending topic on Twitter this morning and while some legitimate accounts appear to have been temporarily locked last night, verifying a phone number -- a tactic used by many social networks to authenticate accounts -- was all that was needed to unlock them.
Have recovered almost all the followers I lost during the #TwitterLockOut.— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) February 21, 2018
Update 2/21/18 1:02PM ET: This post has been updated with an expanded comment from Twitter.