A Twitter account designed to alert users about racist accounts has been shut down by Twitter. Imposter Buster was a bot created by journalist Yair Rosenberg in an attempt to expose racism on the platform.
But while many people welcomed the activities of Imposter Buster -- which would automatically join in the conversations of high-profile racist users in an attempt to expose their trolling of ethnic minority users -- Twitter saw things differently and slapped the bot with a permanent ban.
In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Rosenberg explains that the bot he created was designed to help Twitter do its job of identifying racists so they could be kicked off the platform. "Using a crowd-sourced database of impersonator accounts, carefully curated by us to avoid any false positives, the bot patrolled Twitter and interjected whenever impostors tried to insinuate themselves into a discussion," explained Rosenberg.
Considering the good intensions of Imposter Buster, it is unsurprising to find that the bot's ban -- which came after complaints from those it targeted -- has not been well-received. Rosenberg says:
The great irony of this whole affair is that Impostor Buster was doing Twitter's job for it. The platform has been notoriously prone to abuse since its inception and has struggled to curb it. Rather than asking Twitter to provide a top-down solution, however, we created a bottom-up one. We used Twitter's tools to police itself -- until Twitter fired the sheriff. If the platform is going to rescue itself from the trolls, it will need to foster these efforts, not fight them.
Twitter has justified the ban by saying that Imposter Buster was responsible for posting "high volumes" of "duplicative content," and there were also complaints about spam posted by the bot.
Twitter has responded to a backlash at the bot ban with a statement:
Twitter welcomes the use of our service to counter hate speech and promote positivity, unity, and understanding. We believe this type of counterspeech is a healthy use of Twitter, and a necessary part of a vibrant democracy. Everyone on Twitter must follow the Twitter Rules, including our rules that prohibit hateful conduct, as well the rules that prohibit spammy behavior and automated mentions of other people. We are regularly in touch with developers to help ensure their work fully follows the Twitter Rules and our developer policies.