Does Twitter Sanitize Content?

Does Twitter protect its favorite celebrities?

Newsweek floated this disturbing concept this week.

In a posting called “Is Twitter Protecting Ashton Kutcher,” writer Mickey Kraus wonders if Twitter edits the Twitter streams about its celebrity users like Kutcher (who has nearly six million followers and has been a big and vocal advocate of Twitter).

Kraus’ evidence?

Recently, Kutcher has been lambasted by tabloids and gossip mongers for allegedly cheating on his wife Demi Moore.  Whether or not this seedy gossip is true or not is beside the point.  It’s the type of rumor that usually flies wild on social networking sites like Twitter.  But if you search Twitter under Kutcher’s Twitter handle “@Aplusk” there is nary a mention of Kutcher’s troubles.

In fact, the only mention in the search results I got was a blog posting in support of Kutcher.  The rest of the stream is simply benign Twitter chatter about Kutcher.

As Kraus notes:

“But I’m not arguing that Twitter censors messages. If you post something nasty about @APlusK I’m sure it will go out to all your “followers,” and be included on the list of messages on your Twitter page. I’m suggesting that Twitter somehow sanitizes search results–what turns up if someone who isn’t your follower tries to find all messages that mention @APlusK.

If that happens, why would Twitter want to keep it a secret? Because it would reveal that Twitter’s uncontrolled expressive democracy is a bit of a fake: Here we thought we were meeting bigshots in a virtual public square, and really it was manipulated like the Truman Show.”

I’m starting to get as suspicious and as paranoid as Kraus.  Do a search on any of Twitter’s celebrities and you’ll find pretty tame stuff.  Wouldn’t you expect to find just as much confrontation, anger and bile as you’d find on comments on any blog?  Would not at least some aroused teenage boys be flirting with and hitting on Brittany Spears or Alyssa Milano?  Yet there’s barely anything negative or controversial in either of their search  streams on Twitter.

If true it also brings into question the whole concept of Twitter’s real-time information flow.  Is it being manipulated?  If so, how?  Does Twitter protect other people or brands outside of its circle of celebrity friends?

Have I fallen for Kraus’ paranoia or something amiss here?


Newsweek story “Is Twitter Protecting Ashton Kutcher?”

Slate’s KrausFiles “Paranoid’s Corner: Does Twitter Semi-Censor to Protect Celebrities?”

Mickey Kraus on Wikipedia

Ashton Kutcher on Twitter

Photo by TechCrunch (via Flickr)

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