Stanford professor put on Twitter’s ‘Trends Blacklist’

Jan. 18, 2023, 9:56 p.m.

Stanford Health Policy professor Jay Bhattacharya ’90 MD ’97 Ph.D. ’00 was included on a Twitter “Trends Blacklist” in 2020. The list was released last month by the platform’s new CEO, Elon Musk. Tweets posted by accounts on the “Trends Blacklist” are prevented from trending regardless of how many likes or retweets they receive.

People suspected Twitter for years of shadow banning some of its users, restricting the visibility of their tweets without notifying users. Although the company has denied “deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it,” it was revealed last month that Twitter did have a system in place to restrict visibility of certain users.

The Trends Blacklist was one function designed to reduce visibility. Other visibility-filtering methods the company created include a “search blacklist,” to keep certain accounts from appearing in a Twitter search, and a “do not amplify” function.

The news of the Trends Blacklist has sparked a wide range of reactions and renewed debates on the relationship between censorship, free speech and social media.

During the pandemic, Bhattacharya wrote an open letter with two other medical professors expressing concerns for U.S. lockdown measures and advocating for “focused protection.” Bhattacharya’s proposal — which contrasted with those of other Stanford Medicine faculty and health policy experts — involved people not at high risk of dying from COVID-19 resuming normal activities while directing financial and public health resources towards protecting the most vulnerable. According to Bhattacharya, this would have mitigated the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and working class individuals.

Bhattacharya believes that his tweets on alternatives to the Covid lockdowns are why he was included on the list. He has tweeted about the list and told other news outlets that he was surprised to see himself on there.

“I have not been abusive, I’ve not said a single swear word on any of the platforms,” Bhattacharya told NewsNation. “Frankly, I’m not even sure it was political. I was basically arguing for something like the Swedish approach, which is a left-wing, more socialist kind of idea toward school openings and lockdowns.”

The Daily has reached out to Bhattacharya for comment.

The University did not directly respond to The Daily’s questions about the Trends Blacklist and Bhaattacharya’s inclusion but referred The Daily to their guidelines on employee social media use.

The Daily has reached out to Twitter for comment.

Carolyn Stein is a Desk Editor for Campus Life and a co-Audience Engagement Editor. She is double majoring in communications and East Asian studies. Her favorite activity is going on unnecessarily long walks. Contact her at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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