Last Saturday, the pro-life movie Unplanned saw its Twitter account briefly suspended on opening weekend. On Sunday, it mysteriously lost almost 100,000 followers, and followers like me were unable to follow the account without being immediately forced to “unfollow” it. News of this trouble seemed to serve the film well, however. This week, it had more followers than Planned Parenthood, and the opening box office numbers far exceeded expectations.
This led some to suggest Unplanned orchestrated the Twitter block, and perhaps even set up a program to “soft block” its own users to give the impression of Twitter censorship.
Judd Legum, founder of ThinkProgress, slammed Unplanned for using an “OBVIOUS SCAM.”
“[Donald Trump Jr., Michelle Malkin, Guy Benson,] and other high-profile right-wing wing [sic] accounts are claiming that Twitter is blocking their ability to follow [Unplanned movie] — an account of an anti-abortion movie,” Legum tweeted. “Knowingly or not, they are falling for an OBVIOUS SCAM.”
1. @DonaldJTrumpJr, @michellemalkin, @guypbenson, and other high-profile right-wing wing accounts are claiming that Twitter is blocking their ability to follow @UnplannedMovie — an account of an anti-abortion movie
Knowingly or not, they are falling for an OBVIOUS SCAM pic.twitter.com/p0RRFoBH3F
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) April 1, 2019
“The behavior they are describing can be easily achieved through a ‘soft block,'” Legum added. “Block someone who follows you, then quickly unblock them. Boom, they aren’t following you anymore. Can be manual or scripted. This isn’t Twitter censorship. It’s manufactured controversy.” He went on to attack “most claims of right-wing social media censorship” as “just people trying to promote themselves.”
2. The behavior they are describing can be easily achieved through a "soft block."
Block someone who follows you, then quickly unblock them. Boom, they aren't following you anymore.
Can be manual or scripted.
This isn't Twitter censorship. It's manufactured controversy.
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) April 1, 2019
Other Twitter users seized on Unplanned‘s weird tweet involving QAnon conspiracy theories. QAnon refers to an online conspiracy theory linking the deep state and an alleged child sex trafficking ring with Hollywood celebrities and more. It grew out of the discredited “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s emails revealed such a child sex trafficking ring.
The Unplanned account tweeted “WWG1WGA,” a code message to the QAnon conspiracy community.
Legum’s theory, combined with the QAnon tweet, suggests that perhaps Unplanned orchestrated both the Saturday Twitter block and the unfollow controversy. The Hollywood Reporter had reported that Twitter blocked Unplanned due to its connection with an account violating Twitter rules. The QAnon tweet suggests this might be the connection.
It stands to reason that a pro-life film might have attempted to orchestrate controversy by tweeting QAnon conspiracy theories, then complaining when Twitter blocked them, and then unleashing a “soft block” script to make it seem as though Twitter were attacking them.
Such rumors should bother pro-life Americans who support Unplanned‘s message against the evils of abortion.
PJ Media asked one of the film’s producers, Joe Knopp, about these rumors.
Knopp described the “heightened sensitivity around this movie” due to its display of some forms of abortion as excruciatingly painful for the mother and heinously vicious to the child. He noted that “TV stations wouldn’t allow our ads, radio stations blocked them, even back when we were filming, we weren’t able to get some filming locations.”
“Some of that led into the conspiracy theory that Twitter was out to get us,” he acknowledged. He seemed to believe Twitter’s explanation that the temporary block was due to an algorithm problem.
“They said that they did have to suspend our account based on an algorithm that did connect us to some accounts that had activity that wasn’t right or appropriate,” Knopp said. “We called them right away, they looked into it they said it was not an issue now. They got us up and running again.”
As for the unfollow problem, Knopp said that while many think Twitter’s blocking and unblocking is like a light switch, with an immediate effect, its real effects are more like “a fluorescent lightbulb that takes more time to get back to normal.”
“It was a 24-hour window for it to restore to normal,” the producer noted. The unfollow problem on Sunday “was still related to the original issue.”
Knopp admitted that it was not unreasonable for people to wonder if Unplanned orchestrated the problem. “I’m sure maybe in some world, games are played with social media. I know that was not our intent. We had enough going on,” he said.
“I’m not surprised that somebody said, ‘The movie’s being successful, there’s this Twitter issue that has brought them some attention, maybe it was intentional,’ but that was not the case,” the producer added.
He said the Unplanned team accepted Twitter’s explanation. “So for me, representing the team, we can’t argue any further with what they’ve told us based on our inquiries to them.”
Knopp has produced other films, including I Can Only Imagine. He recalled that that film could advertise on HGTV, Time, Hallmark, and other channels, while Unplanned could only advertise on Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network.
“Social media was really the only other play we had,” he explained.
As for the QAnon snafu, Knopp told PJ Media an intern made a mistake.
When a film nears its release date, “you look for ways to continue to grow the social media presence.” By that time, Unplanned had already galvanized pro-life groups across the country, partnering with them to screen the film, so they looked for areas to expand.
“This particular intern interpreted the QAnon slogan as a conservative slogan and he put it out there. Someone pretty quickly made my team aware, and as soon as we knew what was said, we took it off,” the producer explained.
“It ignited that base and it got them hanging out on our Twitter account, and then others start asking questions. Was it intentional? Was it unintentional?” Knopp said. “It was an intern who saw a correlation between those followers and thought it would be a way to add to our base, but it was a mistake.”
“We are responsible because we hired the team that had the intern,” the producer admitted. “He might not have had enough understanding of how that works with different groups.”
The intern is still working with Unplanned, but Knopp said “he does understand it was a mistake. It’s one of those expensive lessons for him.”
Thanks in part to the “grassroots effort” of partnering with pro-life activist groups, Unplanned had an impressive opening weekend. He also credited the burst of recent abortion news — with Democrats pushing the legalization of late-term abortion and infanticide — for the film’s success.
The producer told PJ Media the film had reached the tipping point “that tells you whether or not it’s worth pursuing more adds and adding theaters.”
The strong opening weekend encouraged Unplanned to add more theaters. Last weekend, the film played on 1,059 screens, but this coming weekend it will be on over 1,500 screens.
Americans can believe whatever they want about the Twitter ban, but Knopp vehemently denied any “SCAM” and instead explained how the block worked. Twitter may not have intentionally targeted Unplanned, but that theory now seems far more plausible than the idea that Unplanned orchestrated a social media scam.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.