New Twitter feature automatically blocks health activist from replying to Nancy Pelosi account

Minimizing online harassment is a good thing, but what happens when certain measures go too far?

Over the weekend, health activist Laura Marston inadvertently showed how Twitter’s new security mode can hamper legitimate speech on the platform. It happened when Marston tweeted to an account linked to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. And that tweet from Marston resulted in the Speaker of the House automatically blocking his account.

“Organise, mobilize and fight #ForThePeople. This is Nancy’s political account,” read the @TeamPelosi account on Twitter. “Tweets from her are signed -NP.”

That’s the narrative Marston, an advocate for affordable insulin, responded to on Sunday, leading to the lockdown. The @TeamPelosi account had just sent a Tweeter on how every House Democrat voted for a bill to cap insulin co-payment at $35 a month. (193 Republicans voted no, as Pelosi’s account pointed out.)

However, Marston wanted to add a few crucial information which @TeamPelosi didn’t include in the tweet. The bill didn’t lower the price of insulin by $300 or more per vial, it only capped copayments for those lucky enough to have insurance. This means that those without insurance are still forced to pay exorbitant and overpriced amounts for life-saving drugs. So Marston added his comments in a tweet quoting @TeamPelosi’s original post. There was no attack, harassment or even vulgarity. Marston offered a fair review with added context.

Less than an hour later, Marston noticed this Twitter prompt when she tried to access the @TeamPelosi Twitter profile.

“Self-blocked by Twitter,” reads the post, preventing Marston from seeing the account’s tweets. “You are temporarily automatically blocked from viewing and interacting with tweets from @TeamPelosi. This happened when they were in safe mode, and we flagged your interactions as potentially abusive or spammy.”

Marston’s auto-blocking tweet, directed to Twitter, quickly went viral.

Safety mode is a relatively new feature of Twitter. First introduced In its testing phase in September last year, when enabled in a user’s settings, Safe Mode will temporarily block accounts for a period of 7 days for using “potentially harmful language or sending repetitive, uninvited replies. seems to be to help users who have a tweet go viral and then get inundated with nasty comments and spam mentions. This is definitely an issue on the platform and a tool to limit this can be a welcome feature. Over the past two months, Twitter has been deployment safe mode is widely used on the platform.

However, this is clearly a case where the algorithm was wrong. And this is perhaps the most unfortunate case of a false positive: A diabetes activist advocating affordable insulin is blocked by an account belonging to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the most powerful public figures.

It is also a possibility that this block is in violation of Marston’s First Amendment rights. Courts have ruled that a public official using a social media platform for public affairs is akin to a public forum, meaning that preventing users from accessing or interacting with it constitutes a violation of their rights. However, there has been differences. For example, a politician’s personal account is not necessarily a public forum simply because it is run by a public official, even if that account posts about politics. And the @TeamPelosi account is not his official account, which can be found here: @SpeakerPelosi.

Either way, it’s a bad look for any politician to block users, especially the progressive activists who make up their base. Maybe they should stay away from safe mode.

For its part, Twitter knows that this feature can accidentally block the wrong users. He tells his prompt that he doesn’t do it “all the time” and is working on improving detection. Mashable has contacted Twitter regarding the incident and will update this post if we have a response.

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