Twitter’s secretive “Project Guardian” aims to shield controversial characters and users with large followings from an onslaught of trolls and haters, according to a report by Bloomberg. The platform reportedly maintains a list of thousands of users that Twitter deems high risk for harassment, which includes musicians, professional athletes, journalists, and other users who are particularly prominent — even if just for the moment.
Bloomberg notes that when Twitter receives a report of an abusive post related to an account on the list, Twitter’s content moderation team will respond to that report faster than all the other ones it has lined up. The thinking behind the program is that Twitter can prevent harmful content from spreading, as well as keep prominent tweeters content and less likely to speak out about bullying on the platform.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, told Bloomberg that an array of users make up its Project Guardian list, and they don’t have to be celebrities. Users who get caught up in viral Twitter drama may also be included, but typically only temporarily. Once the 15 seconds of fame wears off, Twitter will remove that user from Project Guardian, while others have a more permanent place on the list. As Bloomberg states, a user may get added to the program when a Twitter employee notices that they’re seeing large volumes of hateful messages, even if that user doesn’t realize it. On the other hand, a high-profile user may even have their manager personally ask Twitter to offer more protection.
According to Bloomberg, some users enrolled in Project Guardian in the past include makeup artist James Charles, Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, as well as former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. Twitter has also used the program to protect journalists who cover controversial topics, like the January riots or 8chan.
In addition to Project Guardian, Bloomberg found that Twitter uses several other factors to prioritize its responses to user reports. This includes a post’s impression, how many followers the user in question has, as well as whether or not the reported tweet is actually harmful. There appears to be no indication that a particular incident sparked the creation of the program, but Bloomberg says that it might’ve been around for two years or more.
As Bloomberg points, Project Guardian doesn’t just shield users; it also protects Twitter from bad PR. In March, Twitter came under fire for its inability to tame the bullies that bombarded former model Chrissy Teigen. Trolls targeted Teigen by making unfounded claims she was part of a conspiracy theory that involves a celebrity pedophile ring. She quit Twitter as a result of the bullying (although she has since returned). Critics argue that Twitter could’ve done more to protect Teigen, although Teigen herself said she didn’t blame the platform for the barrage of abuse.
Just before this revelation, Twitter has been making rapid-fire changes to the platform. In the span of just one day, Twitter has acquired messaging platform Quill, rolled out a test to change the reporting process, began piloting individual content warnings, and started experimenting with a TikTok-style “For You” tab. This spurt of announcements has come in the first week or so after former Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal replaced Jack Dorsey as CEO. In an interview shortly after Agrawal took over, he said he hopes to hasten Twitter’s “execution” and streamline its operations.
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