Comments from a Twitter representative uttered on Wednesday during a congressional hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution are sparking new questions about how and why the social media giant recently suspended the account of pro-life film “Unplanned.”
Filmmaker Chuck Konzelman — writer and director of “Unplanned,” a film about Planned Parenthood clinic director-turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson — is slated to appear before Congress as well on Wednesday to tell the same subcommittee how his film has faced intense bias and social media roadblocks since its release last month.
“From the outset, making a pro-life film in a pro-choice town, we knew we would face a number of challenges,” Konzelman said in prepared testimony, noting that the film received an R rating, was denied advertising from select cable networks and faced an uphill battle on social media.
He went on in the text to explain the most well-publicized roadblock: Twitter briefly suspending the @UnplannedMovie account on its platform during the movie’s release weekend.
“In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 30th, the film’s Twitter account – technically the account owned by the film’s single purpose marketing entity – was suspended,” Konzelman said. “The reason for the suspension has not – to the best of my knowledge – been made clear, beyond being ‘accidental.’”
He went on to decry the timing of the suspension — a suspension that came seven months after the account was first created in August 2018 — as “suspect.”
“Roughly three hours after the suspension, service was restored, although it’s also my understanding that our posting of a Twitter announcement with words to the effect of ‘We’re back’ was deleted from the account, without explanation,” Konzelman stated.
Carlos Monje, Jr., director of public policy and philanthropy for Twitter, addressed the suspension during earlier appearance at the hearing, alluding to the notion that it was based, in part, on an automation issue.
“In the recent instance regarding the account @UnplannedMovie, the account was caught in our automated systems used to detect ban evasion,” Monje said. “Ban evasion occurs when an individual registers for a new account despite having been suspended previously for breaking our rules.”
He said the account was restored “as soon as it was brought to our attention that the new account was not intended for similar violative activity.”
This explanation raised a number of important questions. Among them: regardless of ban evasion, why was the account suddenly suspended more than seven months after its creation, and why did this happen during the film’s theater release weekend.
And the questions don’t end there. Pure Flix Insider spoke with the person who created the account and he stated that he had never been suspended in the past for violating Twitter’s terms. Furthermore, he said he registered the @UnplannedMovie account with a new email address that had not previously been used for account creation.
The suspension, alone, wasn’t the only issue, though, as Konzelman said that the majority of @UnplannedMovie’s followers were seemingly “deleted” from the account during the hours after the suspension, with the total follower count appearing to be fewer than 200 when it had really amassed more than 200,000 followers leading up to that point.
This came along with reports from other Twitter users who had followed the account, but suddenly discovered that they were no longer following.
The @UnplannedMovie account was later returned to normal, but both the suspension and follower count issue caused a great deal of confusion and fueled claims that the film was being unfairly targeted.
Monje addressed this issue as well, telling Congress that Twitter was not hiding follower accounts or disallowing people from following. Instead, he said the number discrepancies were related to the reinstatement of the account after the suspension.
“If users searched for and followed the account during this time, it appeared as if the account was unfollowed,” he said. “Individuals who followed the account during that time period were automatically restored as a follower to that account once it stabilized.”
Konzelman noted in his prepared testimony that he doesn’t see any “collusion” between social media companies or cable outlets that rejected or purportedly restricted the film, but pointed to an imbalanced worldview that restricts free speech.
“For the record, we allege no collusion between any of the social media or cable media entities. At least not in the formal sense," Konzelman said. “They require no coordinated communication or agreement between them, because they are universally progressive in their orientation, political beliefs, and worldview.”
In the end, the question of why the account was suspended on opening weekend when the account had been active for months still remains. Find out more about “Unplanned” here, and listen to an interview with the real-life Abby Johnson below: