Over the past 24 hours, some Twitter users had their profiles replaced with a notice saying their accounts were now being “withheld in: Worldwide.”
The “country withheld” program run by Twitter typically prevents users based in a specific country from seeing tweets sent by a withheld account. This was the first time people could recall the company withholding accounts globally, which was in effect a total ban for the user.
This is what the timeline for @KDScioscia, an account with more than 9,000 followers, showed until Twitter reactivated it shortly before this story was published:
At the time of writing, BuzzFeed News had identified 21 accounts that were being withheld worldwide, and users on Twitter were beginning to wonder if this was a new method being used by the company to suspend accounts.
But a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the worldwide withholdings were in fact the result of a bug.
“We have identified a bug that incorrectly impacted certain accounts. We have identified a fix, are working to resolve the issue, and anticipate it will be fully resolved shortly,” the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
A source familiar with the company told BuzzFeed News the bug affected "a small amount of accounts."
While apparently not intentional, the sudden ban of users was seen by some as another example of the company’s stepped-up efforts to moderate content and behavior on its platform. Along with removing verified check marks from white nationalist accounts, the platform now appears to be quicker to suspend accounts for what it claims are violations of its policies. This has resulted in some confusion and criticism. An account belonging to a BuzzFeed News journalist was recently suspended for an old tweet she says was satirical, and which was mass reported by trolls trying to get her booted from Twitter.
One user whose account was withheld worldwide claimed she was given that status after sending a tweet critical of author J.K. Rowling. She shared a screenshot of a message from Twitter informing her that she “violated our rules against hateful conduct.”
Her account, and the others identified by BuzzFeed News, are now back online.