When AI Fails: The Twitter Appeal Quandary

It’s important to clarify that this experience took place prior to Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and all subsequent transformations, including the platform’s rebranding as “X.”

Considering the sheer volume of tweets flooding Twitter every second, it’s simply unfeasible for the platform to rely solely on a human workforce to scrutinize every piece of content for potential rule violations. To address this challenge, Twitter turns to artificial intelligence, or AI, as a solution. However, a pertinent question arises: what transpires when a tweet is ensnared in the AI’s net, wrongly categorized as violating the platform’s rules?

One might assume the logical course of action would involve a human review to confirm if any rule breaches have indeed occurred. Regrettably, this doesn’t appear to be the standard procedure, or at least, that’s the impression I’ve gathered from my findings.

Elvis Presley, often hailed as the King of Rock-n-Roll, left an indelible mark on the music industry. In the wake of his legendary career, a phenomenon emerged— Elvis impersonators. These talented individuals can be spotted across the globe, gracing events such as weddings and even skydiving adventures. There’s a diverse array of Elvis impersonators out there, ranging from a 500-pound Elvis to women who skillfully channel the King’s persona. While I wouldn’t consider myself an Elvis enthusiast, there’s one Elvis impersonator who managed to capture my interest.

In Brooklyn, New York, there’s a unique phone number you can call. When you dial it, you’ll hear a recording featuring an Elvis impersonator. This recording also lists the prefixes served by a specific central office. As a telephone enthusiast with a keen interest in its history, I couldn’t resist sharing this quirky fact with the Museum of Communications on March 29, 2022. My tweet went like this: “Did you know Elvis ‘lives’ in a DMS100? (NPA) NXX-XXXX” (I’ve left out the phone number to avoid any unwanted calls, but you can learn more about it on Tedium.co and the Weird Phone Number History page.)

Shortly after, I received an email notification from Twitter, informing me that my account had been temporarily locked due to a perceived violation of the Twitter Rules, specifically those posting private information. Upon carefully reviewing these rules, it became evident that they expressly forbid the act of “…publishing or posting other people’s private information without their explicit authorization and consent.” However, an important caveat is mentioned: “If the reported information was shared somewhere else before it was shared on Twitter, e.g., someone sharing their personal phone number on their own publicly accessible website, we may not treat this information as private…”

Now, it’s worth noting that the context here differs significantly from the conventional understanding of privacy concerns. This isn’t an issue related to Elvis, after all he’s been dead for quite some time, or the divulging of an individual’s personal phone number. Instead, it revolves around a unique scenario where calling a particular number connects users to a DMS-100 telephone switch, offering access to a recording via a telephone number which is publicly known. Given this distinctive circumstance, I have decided to initiate an appeal to contest this decision.

Shortly after submitting my appeal, a response arrived within a mere 12 minutes, conveying the Twitter support team’s determination that a violation had indeed occurred. This verdict left me somewhat perplexed, as I found it challenging to comprehend how they reached this conclusion, especially considering that the information in question was not a personal phone number.

I can appreciate how Twitter’s AI might have been prompted to flag my tweet due to certain elements: the presence of a proper name, the use of the word “lives,” and the inclusion of a correctly formatted phone number. However, let’s take a closer look at the sequence of events.

March 29, 2022, 5:41 a.m.
Email received my account is locked for violating Twitter rules moments after Tweet is sent
March 29, 2022, 5:49 a.m.
Submitted an appeal
March 29, 2022, 6:02 a.m.
Appeal was denied

Incredibly, this entire sequence of events unfolded in a mere 23 minutes. While it’s conceivable that a human may have assessed the initial appeal, the subsequent actions taken by Twitter left me deeply disheartened. What transpired next, in my view, is nothing short of unacceptable and is indicative of the challenges many other users continuously face when seeking any form of support from the platform.

I decided to file another appeal with Twitter, this time providing a much clearer context for the tweet. I emphasized the fact that the phone number in question was publicly known and even went a step further by including links to YouTube videos that demonstrated the process of dialing the number, displaying it, and playing the associated recording.

– no response –

I took the additional step of submitting a support ticket through Twitter’s support page, providing comprehensive details along with my phone number, email address, and real name. Upon completing the submission, I received a confirmation page stating that I could expect a response within a few days, with the possibility of a longer wait in certain cases. With this in mind, I patiently awaited their response, allowing more than a week to elapse in the process.

– no response –

Frustrated by the lack of progress, I made the decision to cancel my previous appeal and submitted a fresh one. In this new appeal, I went to great lengths to provide even more comprehensive information, emphasizing the apparent oversight in the handling of my previous appeal. I made sure to include my contact details and patiently awaited a response once again.

– no response –

Desperate for a response from Twitter, I resorted to tips on how to receive a response which involved using the Gmail “+” feature. I began appending variations of “+1,” “+2,” and so on to my Gmail address when submitting support requests through their online form. This was a strategic move, aimed at increasing the chances of my appeals catching their attention in the hope of finally receiving a response.

– no response –

In a last-ditch effort to capture anyone’s attention at Twitter, I decided to escalate the matter by opening a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau. In this complaint, I meticulously crafted a comprehensive statement, complete with copies of the original tweet, copies of the Twitter rules they alleged I had violated, and all relevant documentation. With this thorough submission, I braced myself for yet another waiting period, but this time, there was finally a response.

…In order to assist you, please provide your Twitter support case number…

Twitter initially proposed a resolution through the Better Business Bureau for me to consider. However, I found this proposed resolution unsatisfactory and subsequently declined it. In my response, I emphasized the numerous attempts I had made to reach someone at Twitter without even receiving a basic case number as acknowledgment.

The situation took on an increasingly perplexing dimension. It appeared as though Twitter was not adequately addressing the complaints submitted through the Better Business Bureau either. I rejected their proposed solution once more, reiterating my persistent issue of not receiving a case number, which lay at the heart of the problem.

However, this time, there was no response from Twitter, and I found myself in a state of limbo. Several weeks passed without communication from the Better Business Bureau. When I eventually checked the status of my complaint, I was disheartened to discover that they had closed it, citing that “the Better Business Bureau has determined that the business made a good faith effort to answer the complaint and has now closed it.” I found it puzzling that repeatedly requesting a case number, which I never received due to the system’s malfunction, could be interpreted as a “good faith effort” to resolve the issue.

In light of this frustrating turn of events, I decided to send a follow-up email to the Better Business Bureau, urging them to reopen the complaint, as I firmly believed that this did not constitute a genuine attempt at resolution. Given the roadblock encountered with the BBB, I contemplated escalating the matter further by seeking assistance from the California Attorney General’s consumer complaint division, hoping for a more effective resolution path.

Amidst all these challenges, a fundamental question looms large: Does the current method of monitoring tweets for rule violations create an inherent unfairness when individuals find it virtually impossible to reach a human representative for appeals, or is this primarily an issue rooted in the programming and implementation of AI systems?

This query underscores the broader concern about the efficacy and equity of content moderation processes on platforms like Twitter, where the intersection of technology and human judgment can sometimes lead to substantial frustrations and unresolved issues. The answer to this question could have far-reaching implications for how social media platforms handle content moderation, appeals, and customer support in the future.

I’d like to emphasize that this post isn’t about my personal experience of being locked or suspended from Twitter, as I recognize that such actions are essential to maintaining the integrity of the platform. Instead, the core issue at hand revolves around the glaring absence of responses from Twitter. It sheds light on a pervasive problem where numerous accounts, often innocently, get caught in the AI net due to specific words or phrases that trigger the platform’s ban algorithm.

The crux of the matter is that there’s a lack of follow-up within Twitter’s own process. Many users, like myself, find themselves in a state of uncertainty, hoping for a response from the platform. Regrettably, based on my own experiences, the prospect of a timely or effective response from Twitter appears uncertain, if not entirely elusive. This situation underscores the need for more transparent and efficient communication channels when addressing content moderation and appeals on social media platforms.

For now, I will not be able to Tweet until Twitter responds, but you can still follow me @FinnleyDolfin

Did you ever get your Twitter account locked or suspended for violating the rules but really didn’t? Did you go through their appeal process? Did you ever get your account back? Let me know in the comments.

Update 05/13/2022:
It has been 45 days since Twitter locked my account. I still have not received a response from my appeal nor support requests. I still have not received a case number.

On the bright side, the owner of the blog I mentioned above tagged TwitterSupport trying to get some attention to my case, but still nothing.

For now I have been lightly using my bot account to send out messages and it posts the daily count of how many days it has been since my account has been locked.

2 responses to “When AI Fails: The Twitter Appeal Quandary”

  1. Hey there,

    This is Ernie Smith from Tedium—I feel terrible to hear that your sharing of a phone number from my article got you a Twitter rule violation. Please let me know if you need anything—I’ve tweeted about this issue on my account in hopes of drawing attention to the situation. Hopefully I can help.

    1. Hi Ernie,

      Thank you for mentioning it on Twitter. However, as my post says, I do not believe there are any humans working at Twitter anymore. Funny though is I knew of that number from the old BBS days when it was passed around on lists of interesting numbers. That must have been mid-90s. I forgotten about it and then went to look it up to share with The Connections Museum.

      For now, I will continue to cancel and re-appeal and still do the daily count of how many days it’s been since I’ve received a response.


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