Bird charity locked out of Twitter during a national campaign week after sharing ‘too many woodcock’ posts

The British Trust for Ornithology had been tweeting about a bird which is in urgent need of help as part of the Big Garden Birdwatch

Watch more of our videos on Shots!
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

A bird charity says it was locked out of its Twitter account for over a week for posting too much about a group of birds called woodcocks.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) says that it was unable to access its official Twitter account for eight consecutive days during January 2022 after trying to raise awareness about the wading birds, which are a group of seven or eight very similar species, and are on the red list in the UK for their threatened status. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Red List is a list of birds in the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in most urgent need of help because of their critical decline in numbers.

The BTO had partnered with BBC‘s Winterwatch TV show, which aired earlier in January, to inform the public about the bird group during the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch national campaign. When posting about this on social media, however, they found that the unfortunate name may have caused a problem.

The official BTO Twitter account has been active since April 2009, and in the last 14 years the charity has posted over 42K tweets. But suddenly, on Friday 20 January, the communications team at the bird conservation charity found they could no longer post anything to their 116K followers due to an age verification prompt. The staff say that they could not get in touch with anyone at the social media network, which is now owned by Elon Musk, to discuss the request.

“Maybe Twitter interprets the word ‘woodcock’ differently”

Tom Stewart, Media Manager at BTO, said: "Twitter is our most important social media channel for engaging with our supporters. We don’t know exactly what happened but we did do a lot of tweets about a bird called a woodcock.

"After the age verification prompt, we were locked out for eight days and it was impossible to get hold of anyone from Twitter. Even from their press office. Half the people on LinkedIn who state they’re employees for Twitter don’t work there anymore.

"Maybe the Twitter algorithm interprets the word ‘woodcock’ differently. But we’re a big charity and rely on Twitter to raise awareness and speak with people."

“Important and well respected scientists”

The BTO’s ban from twitter prompted BBC Winterwatch host Chris Packham to tweet Musk on Friday 27 January and ask him to reinstate the account. This came after his co-presenter Michaela Strachan had also lost her account for two days, supposedly for a post she put out about musician David Gray.

Packham wrote: “Hello @elonmusk . Thanks for reinstating @michaelastracha to @Twitter . I’m afraid the excellent @_BTO have now inexplicably disappeared . They are very important and well respected scientists and educators working to support critical conservation projects . Any chance . . . RT.”

In response, Strachan tweeted: “OMG what is going on!! @Twitter you def need to sort out your algorithms! Hope they unblock you soon @_BTO I was unblocked within 48hrs after appealing. They are def blocking the wrong people here!”

The charity’s Twitter access then returned on Sunday 29 January, however, there was no communication or explanation from anyone from the social media platform.

Confirming this, the charity tweeted: “Hello old friends! We are back and very happy to see you all again after our week locked out of Twitter!”

At the time of writing, on Tuesday 31 January, Twitter had still not commented on the ban but the BTO Twitter page remained active.