Tor, Twitter, and the Twitter onion: Beware!

Twitter has a poor track-record in its treatment of Tor users. Recently, it was hailed with plaudits for turning around and opening an onion. This is a public service announcement: You can ruin yourself if, in a critical moment, you rely on that onion and its presumed implications of Tor-friendliness.

Before I tried the onion, I did do a cursory web search to see if there were any recent user reports of this nature. Such reports could have saved me an awful lot of trouble. Here is mine, for the next person in a similar situation.

I don’t want to come off as deprecating Alec Muffett’s effort. I know that he’s been devoted for years to these onions; this is his baby. Please don’t mistake me as unappreciative when I evaluate the latest results as Twitter playing privacy-theater.

What happened, and where it stands:

A few days ago, I did not have a Twitter account. Yes, really. Some people feel so strongly about privacy that they don’t enjoy spilling their guts on social media.

Now, I face the maelstrom of current events in a financial mass-catastrophe. This doesn’t seem like the right place to be elaborating my position, so I will stick to what’s directly relevant below: A large number of people lost their life’s savings to the total meltdown of a major cryptocurrency network. I’m now involved (and, disclosure: invested with money I first threw in for idealistic reasons). Events are still unfolding. Events are moving fast: Every day, every hour counts! I need a bigger public platform—fast.

Twitter is the only option. Indie websites, Fediverse, etc. will not reach people in a hurry. It is the problem with these centralized platforms—and it is a problem that will not be solved by my silencing myself now.

First step: Create a Twitter account. I asked myself, Should I hide the fact that I am a Tor user?

I’ve been doing this privacy-network stuff for awhile. I could conceal my Tor usage. But I prefer to show my support for Tor—to show that the onion site is used and loved and needed. I know that when a corporation decides how to allocate its resources, “does anyone actually use this thing?” may be asked.

I signed up through the onion site, and spent two precious hours squeezing my message into a tweetstorm: 25 tweets posted as one threaded block, through the web app interface intended for that purpose.

Post. Copy link to first tweet, send it to friend. Tweets after the first don’t show up—no threading. Check it from a Tor Browser instance with no cookies—confirmed, no tweets. Check back logged in myself—I can see my tweets. This is a definitional shadow-ban.

Send message to Twitter support. Not easy, because the help site throws an error when trying to contact support through the onion; that’s a bug. Log in through clearnet site, jump through “safety” hoops to get back into my account, message support. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking…

Now, two days later and after multiple messages to Twitter support, my initial tweets are still sneakily suppressed in the manner of a shadow-ban. I need them restored, fully visible with proper threading—it’s not happening. The Twitter account itself seems to be working—maybe?—but I don’t know what to do with it, if anything at all. Dealing with this has been a time sink, at a time when my attention is pulled in a dozen directions and every moment is precious.

My tweets address matters of public importance, including my calling out various parties for wrongdoing that is both reprehensible and flatly illegal. I made my case in a tone suitable for civil discourse—you may judge my approach from the tone of this hereby post. My tweets violated none of Twitter’s rules. And besides, it happened too fast for a human review to have been possible. A robot took my urgent message about breaking current events, and sneakily semi-trashed it in such a way that only I can read it.

There are only two possible causes, perhaps in combination:

  1. I am a Tor user. I used the onion. Twitter and its robo-mod systems have a longtime, well-known, trigger-happy bias against Tor users. Why do they have an onion?

  2. My tweets made copious mention of cryptocurrency. That is unavoidable: I am calling out wrongdoing by a cryptocurrency project that lost people their life savings, and is now trying to get away with more money. A platform for public discussion is entirely useless, if it cannot be used to name, blame, and shame cryptocurrency scams without incurring a shadow-ban. What other issues of public interest will trigger the mod-bot? Will your important issue trigger it in some way that you never even considered?

Although #2 may be a factor, I think that #1 must have been decisive. After all, it’s probably not news to anyone that Twitter is chock-full of talk about cryptocurrency.

No exaggeration, and not to be melodramatic: Relying on Twitter and its onion may actually be one of the worst mistakes I have ever made in my life. Think of the proverbial horseshoe nail.

Tor users: Beware. It’s privacy-theater. The tweety-leopard may have rubbed some onion juice on itself, but it has not changed its spots.

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Logically, I am now trying to tweet about Twitter’s treatment of an account created through the onion. No surprise: My tweets about my account being effectually shadowbanned, are themselves suppressed in the same manner.

This should show several self-replies in the thread, including a relevant screenshot:

I can see them when logged into my account. You will not see them, unless or until Twitter support fixes this.

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Since you were sending out loads of crypto related tweets in a short period of time from behind tor they probably assumed you are some bot trying to scam people out of currency. I’ve had similar issues, I had an account for about 30 minutes then got redirected to a page asking to confirm identity through sms. It not like twitter has ever been an equal or ethical place

They did it to help people in Russia bypass Putins censorship in an effort to look good whilst simultaneously being exposed for censoring free speech.


Adding insult to injury: While I was trying to figure out why my tweets weren’t showing up publicly, I received an obvious scam tweet from a fake account. (Compare the blue-checkmark account name shown on the right.) I am new to Twitter, but I’m an old Bitcoiner. I immediately reported this:

So, let’s take stock: I am obviously articulate, thoughtful, and not-a-robot, as can be seen in the above screenshot. The first tweet in my thread @-mentions a government agency—one of the few government agencies anywhere who isn’t yet interested in this, AFAIK. (Spoiler: I think they should be.) And one of my first actions on Twitter was to report a scambot that somehow found me while I was already shadow-banned. The fake account is now suspended; I hope that my report was what nuked it.

For my account, a human review should suffice. Whether or not you agree with my opinions, any human should be able to see that I am acting in good faith to express my position on rapidly developing current events. I should like to do so timely—ASAP—at a moment when a cryptocurrency project that just wiped out billions of dollars in people’s savings is now essentially saying, “Whoops, sorry, LOL,” and moving on to create a new project (!) while even worse ripping off disfavored subsets of their investors (!!).

To seek human review, I have filed multiple support tickets—each more or less promptly closed, presumably by a human. I have publicly @-tweeted TwitterSupport. And yet, I remain shadow-banned.

The only possible reason to keep me shadow-banned is that I’m a Tor user, and I am tenaciously protective of my privacy.

Twitter’s SMS-doxing is well-known, so I was prepared for that. What I didn’t expect was that on my next login, I was asked for the same SMS number to confirm that I still knew the number. (I was not sent any additional SMS.) I don’t want to discuss that much further.

Although I am usually efficient at protecting my privacy, I am developing a much bigger, much messier data footprint than I had intended here. That’s bad. Hey, by the way, this isn’t the first time that I’ve popped up in the Tor community. I even have a trivial patch for a tiny buglet somewhere in core Tor, from years ago. Given the nature of the project, I expect that Tor receives a long tail of such little contributions from people who don’t want to develop a reputation here. NEWNYM is a thing!

Edit: Fix copy-paste error in quotes of parent post.

Greetings Hyperion,

sorry, but I also may only support ExtraSpice’s opinion:

As you already stated, Twitter is centralized commercial social-media, what did you expect? A Speakers’ Corner instead of a walled garden with filter bubbles managed by algorithms inside?

Why should Twitter broadcast your opinions unless you pay them or they are vital to their own interests?


@atari, @ExtraSpice: After all the years that I’ve been treated as bonkers for not having a Twitter account, it is refreshing to be lectured on why I should avoid Twitter!

In my experience, however, people with an activist itch oftentimes hurt their own causes by isolating themselves from the mainstream. I have made that mistake myself, many times.

That is why, as I alluded in my OP here, I admire what Alec Muffett has explained he is trying to achieve with these onions. Quoting from his blog (bold is his!):

Running an onion site is a commitment by [the platform] to dealing with people who use Tor in an equitable fashion; […]

If I was to encapsulate the benefits in a sentence, it would be this: an onion address is a promise and a mechanism to assure that you are taking seriously the needs of the people who use Tor.

That dovetails with the Tor Project’s approach of embracing usage by numerous different types of people with competing interests, some of whom I may dislike. Tor gives me the best anonymity set, because so many people use it for so many different reasons. That’s good for privacy; it’s also good for free speech.

Likewise, the Muffett Strategy of persuading big corporations to embrace Tor should have much more of a positive impact than my mere wishes that everybody would just stop using Twitter. At least, that’s the theory.

Is it ideal? In my opinion, no: Everybody should stop using Twitter. However, if Twitter exists, I would prefer a Tor-friendly Twitter to a Tor-hating Twitter. If they were really friendly to Tor, that may even soften my opinion of them just a bit; and who knows? Perhaps I may even enjoy using my onion-made Twitter account to discuss with @⁠Snowden all of the reasons why I say: Everybody should quit Twitter. You can use Nitter to follow that; Nitter is a semi-sane way to read Twitter, in the rare event that there’s something worth reading on Twitter. Anyway, I admire the Muffett Strategy.

And no, I don’t think that this was somehow all about Russia. That’s a meme. It was spread as the headline in some mass-media articles about the onion—mere speculation tantamount to a conspiracy theory, as the headline. I think that’s a disservice to the Tor community contributor who has spent years promoting these onions, starting at his former employer—Facebook.

Does anyone who believes the “Russia!” meme know when Mr. Muffett started discussions with Twitter, or what transpired in those discussions? Probably not.

Since my last post on this thread, I have had some communications with Twitter. I didn’t want to spam the Tor Forum with a stream of microblogged little updates; but in fairness to Twitter, I wanted to note that publicly. Therefore, I posted a little tweet noting it in my above-linked Twitter thread about this. If you can’t see it, that’s not my fault.

It is premature at this moment, but I will do follow-up post(s) here with much more information when appropriate. I absolutely want to keep the Tor community informed. As I said in OP, I dearly wish that I had had such information available to me a few days ago. At least, others should benefit in the future.

In closing for now, I feel it’s incumbent on me to tell people why this is so important. I am not just making a Twitter account to hear myself talk.

Although the issue itself is off-topic for the Tor Forum, people really need to have a better idea of what Twitter is silencing here, and of what the ramifications are. You can’t see what I said in my Twitter thread, so it’s hard for you to judge for yourself whether or not it’s really so important for me to have a Twitter account. I will summarize briefly as I can—presuming some basic knowledge of current events, so as to keep this brief.

Twitter is where the self-alleged “Master of Stablecoin” promised people that a re-peg would be achieved. I relied on that, throwing my scant resources into the volatile side of this system as it crashed. So did people who had their life savings on the allegedly “stable” side—on the side that was supposed to be safe, not a speculative investment. It was heavily marketed to the “unbanked”, and also more generally to anyone who did not want risks.

Some of the “stable” holders were wealthy; that doesn’t make it acceptable to steal from them, but it does mean that they can survive. The numeric majority of the holders were not wealthy—and many of them had very little to begin with, very little at all. Some of them have committed suicide. The stories on the forums are really horrible. For many people, this is not only “I lost my money”: It is, “I wish that I could keep eating.”

Twitter is where the same party is now promoting his new project that substantially dispossesses everyone outside his favored subset of investors, via disproportionate distribution of a new (and volatile) token—all decreed by fiat, under the flimsy rubric of rigged “blockchain governance”.

But… Twitter is where a Tor user is not allowed to speak up about this. Even (or especially?) not allowed to point out a problem that no one else has seen, which I expect to have explosive ramifications in the future. My first tweet thread took 30 tweets to broach this problem for the first time in public. Too bad you can’t read it!

I presume that Twitter doesn’t want to protect flagrant cryptocurrency scams. I guess they must really hate Tor users.

Since they have not told me their reasons for shadowbanning me, I am left to that guess.

Some links are missing above, because the archiver has been dysfunctional for hours. I cannot delay this any longer. I may edit this later to add a few missing links, with an appropriate note here. Instead, I needed to remove helpful links that were already here. “Sorry, new users can only put 2 links in a post.” Sorry. Links will not be added.

For what it’s worth, since it’s at least topical to this thread:

Twitter has more fundamental privacy problems than these already mentioned. On one hand, I guess it’s good that somebody out there is pushing against Twitter (and FB and etc) for things like this, but on the other hand, how far do you think everyone will get bargaining with bad actors? Even with punishing FTC action, Twitter will never be interested in obtaining consent from the governed. It will only ever be about satisfying major shareholders, who in turn will only care about returns, which means they’ll only care about listening to the people giving them money, and maybe checkmarked profiles that glue clueless people to the platform.

If the values of privacy and so forth matter, we should be using other services that embrace those values – not ones that get punished for pretty flagrant privacy abuses. Accounts using tor getting shadowbanned because of cryptocurrency posts seems like splitting hairs.


Needs a tweet-circle.

Get together at least twice the number of people as you’ve got tweets to send out. Each person sends one tweet, then once all the tweets are out (so you’ll have at least two copies of each tweet, since you’ve got at least twice the number of people as you’ve got tweets), each person edits the tweets to include the link to the next tweet in the sequence.

Or just get away from Twitter altogether and use something else that doesn’t censor… GETTR or similar. You can’t use the tools of the censorious fascists to beat the censorious fascists, they control those tools, they’ll just block you to bolster their own aims and their own narrative… and that narrative doesn’t have your best interests at heart. You can’t straddle, using tools of evil for good. You must either go full evil or go full good.

probably already in your feed - but just as followup:

Workers at embattled crypto operator Terraform Labs put on South Korea’s no-fly list [Financial Times]