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Seminar: The Geopolitics of Deplatforming: Which Politically-Interested Iranian Accounts get Suspended on Twitter?

Spring 2022 Seminars: 23rd March

The Geopolitics of Deplatforming: Which Politically-Interested Iranian Accounts get Suspended on Twitter?

Speaker: (opens in a new window)Andreu Casas (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Wednesday, March 23, 14:00–14:45 (GMT)

If Covid-19 guidelines allow, all events take place at UCD and are also live-streamed on Zoom. Please register (opens in a new window)here to receive the link and password to the online meeting and information on the room at UCD.

Abstract: Citizens increasingly rely on social media to express opinions and engage in politics. In recent years social media companies have played a more active role in regulating freedom of speech by removing content and accounts. Initially companies did so to improve the health of the platforms, battling bots and toxic behavior. However, there are today many discussions around whether mainstream platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter suspend users for ideological reasons. We tackle this question from a geopolitical angle. The U.S. government pressures US-based platforms to suspend the accounts of people and organizations included in their international sanctioning plans, as well as those who support them. Despite some transparency efforts from the platforms, we know very little about the impact that these suspensions have on the political conversations in the platforms. After identifying about 600,000 Twitter users interested in Iranian politics, for a six-month period we track their activity and whether they get suspended. We then use computational methods to assess differences between suspended and non-suspended users. We find that after accounting for many alternative explanations, conservative (Principlist) users and those supportive of the Iranian government are much more likely to be suspended. We illustrate how in turn, these suspensions bias the types of political content available in the platform. From a theoretical perspective, the results contribute to the debate on deplatforming by emphasizing its (geo)political dimension and consequences. From a more practical point of view, the study contributes to keeping accountable the companies regulating our online environment, and to inform public and policy debates on the topic.

About the speaker: Andreu Casas is an Assistant Professor of Communication Science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His research interests encompass the areas of political communication, public policy processes, and computational social sciences. He is particularly interested in how social movements and interest groups influence the political agenda and the decision making process in the current media environment. His methodological interests and strengths are natural language processing (text as data), computer vision (images as data), and machine learning and artificial intelligence in general.