App sharing earthquake, typhoon, flood, travel and other news "muzzled"


#1

This morning I woke up to find that the application I wrote to share local news in English and Japanese has been “muzzled”.

The application monitors API rate limits every time it runs. It suspends itself if it uses more than 20% of any of the rate limits set by Twitter.

It monitors how frequently it posts information, aiming to tweet no more frequently than four times an hour.

At the time it was suspended, the application had not exceeded any of the rate limits set by Twitter. This is the second time the application has been suspended despite not exceeding any of the rate limits. Last time the application was reviewed and the suspension was lifted, but when I then wrote to Twitter Support asking for more information about the problem so I could prevent it from happening again, there was no response. Nonetheless, I did reduce the frequency with which the application posts, and introduced some other functions to ensure no limits were exceeded.

This morning I filled in the form with a bunch of details about the rate limit information the app had received via the API immediately prior to its suspension as well as a detailed description of how the application functions, and all the identifying details and application keys the form requested. I received an automated response asking me to send the same information again - which I didn’t have time to do…I am now late for work because I am a private individual trying to correspond with Twitter to get this block lifted on an application I and others rely on for news and information related to travel, earthquakes, typhoons and flooding, all of which frequently affect everyone here in Japan and the English speaking community that this application serves in particular (who often have limited access to the majority of the information which is posted in Japanese, making it difficult to track down reliable details even if images etc. could be understood, just due to having to work through a high volume of information in a very different language).

Below is a screenshot of the last tweets posted by the application to the account on Twitter before the block was applied. Please look at the posts - typhoon information, earthquake information, information from official international news channels about US military activity related to a security situation that directly affects all of us (Tokyo is highly likely to be a target if North Korea responds to what it perceives as provocation on the Korean peninsular). There are about four posts in as many hours.

Knowing the harassment and abuse that is commonplace, persistent and largely ignored on Twitter, it is incredibly frustrating to see an application I have invested a great deal of time in, with the purpose of benefiting the community by sharing what is potentially life saving information automatically so that it continues to be available in the event of a natural disaster (there are good reasons this app is automated), blocked without what even seems to be any human review by Twitter.

I would like to know how this application is “degrading the community experience”.


#2

Hi there - I totally understand your frustration here and appreciate the effort you’ve made with the app, particularly when you’re trying to build something of value.

Unfortunately we are not able to enter into detailed discussion about individual apps and their policy compliance on the forums - you’ll need to follow up with platform support via replies to the email you’ve been sent, or the platform support forms.

For context, there are a variety of automated systems that help us to monitor the platform. The automation rules generally have more information on this, but I do understand how frustrating it is when you’re trying to build something like this, and it is difficult to document every case that would cause an app to trigger our antispam system, because it is an adaptive set of rules that has to respond to new attacks every day. If you’re interested in learning more about it (it is called “Botmaker”) then you can watch a video from the team from our Flight conference last year.


#3

Hello Andy,

Thank you for your kind response. I appreciate you taking the time to understand the developers’ point of view.

The platform support contacts you mentioned are the same contacts that have sent me automated replies asking for the same information I have already sent them, and who have not answered my questions about how to ensure this application operates within Twitter’s policy.

The first time write access was suspended, platform support initially lifted the suspension. I replied to the reactivation notification, asking for information on how to avoid further problems. I heard nothing for six days (until checking again this weekend I had thought they hadn’t replied at all), then they wrote with another standard template mail to say that despite having lifted the write access suspension they had now “completed a full review of the application and found it to be in violation of our Developer Agreement and Policy. This application was generating automated or aggressive retweets.”

So the application was not simply flagged as inappropriate by an automated system, but was examined and considered “detrimental to the user experience” by a member of the Twitter staff.

Since write access for this application was suspended early Wednesday morning, two typhoon systems have swept across this region. Typhoon Meranti was the strongest this year to make landfall in China, where it killed 28 people, left 15 missing, damaged more than 18,300 houses and caused direct economic losses of more than 16.9 billion yuan ($2.5bn). In Taiwan it killed one person and injured more than 50. More than 2,700 residents have been evacuated in Taiwan as a second typhoon, Malakas, passes over the same areas before turning towards Japan.

These are exactly the scenarios in which the application is intended to share important information and raise awareness of impacts, and seeing this sequence of events this week has prompted me to really question whether Twitter is the correct platform for me as a developer and as a user. I had already been thinking of reducing the time I spent using the service, which is one reason I decided to develop this app. I wanted to ensure that the information I have shared throughout the past six years of participation in my small corner of the Twitter community (including through the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster here in Japan) continues to be available irrespective of my involvement.

Because nobody knows when an earthquake, or large-scale flooding, or landslide, or tsunami will occur, whatever system is in place has to “just work”. But building this kind of application on Twitter clearly doesn’t “just work”. Despite depending directly on the actions of many independent users, both to post the content initially from accounts registered on a manually curated list, and then for it to be shared in sufficient numbers that this application recognizes the content as relevant, platform support regard this application as automated and detrimental. I see this time they have, again, reinstated the applications’ write access. But events in China while the tool was unavailable were hardly insignificant.

Platform support could see last time that the app wasn’t exceeding any of the rate limits. They could see that the content related to significant news, earthquake reports, typhoon forecasts and a few posts of more lighthearted content that had proven extremely popular with Twitter users. They judged it to be inappropriate, and despite having been asked for more information they’ve offered none. So what would prevent the same thing from happening again? Will it happen hours before a magnitude 9 earthquake next time? Or a lethal tsunami? Who knows?

I find it really hard to understand what kind of human being sees an application sharing low volume earthquake reports and typhoon forecasts and blocks it. And as a long-term user of Twitter it’s shocking and disappointing to see this kind of decision made by those with responsibility for a service that is heavily relied upon by so many individuals worldwide. It’s impossible to trust a platform where decisions are being made in this way. So it’s for this reason that while I appreciate your sympathetic response, any further time I invest in development work on this application will be to make it operate more independently of the Twitter platform, and to allow me personally to rely less on Twitter as a source of information.


#4

Thanks for sharing your comments and I apologise again for the frustration that you’re finding in this situation. The teams work to apply our rules in a common and consistent manner, and unfortunately that sometimes results in a case where we’re not able to resolve things in a way that satisfies both sides.

I’ll certainly raise this with some folks internally, but as I explained previously, the policy and platform support teams are the ultimate arbiters here.

We appreciate the effort you’ve made, and hope you’ll continue to consider the Twitter platform, even though I understand your concern to build things that are also independent of it.