“Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”
“Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.”
If Congress can find the time and nerve to ask Facebook tough questions about Russian ads, maybe they can ask Twitter how the President’s behavior does not fall under the umbrella of harassment and hateful conduct as defined by their own guidelines. Historically it seems that regular people have had their accounts suspended and even terminated for less than what the President does on a weekly basis. From Alicia Machado to John McCain to Elizabeth Warren to Steph Curry to Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jeff Flake to Jeff Sessions to Meghan Kelly to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski to CNN to members of the free press to the National Football League to the leader of North Korea, the President appears to be a walking guideline violation. So why hasn’t Twitter done anything?
If capitalism has a law of gravity it seems to be that a company “either dies a hero or lives long enough to see itself become the villain”. American corporations seem to follow a common narrative of tracking towards increasingly unethical behavior to sustain market share and revenue growth. Innovation is a finite and unpredictably distributed resource, but shareholders never want to hear that. They want a regular rate of return on their investment, or they want someone’s head. Things are destined to get unsustainable when you’re expected to constantly increase revenue no matter what. “Vanity Fair” did an article a year or so ago reporting on Twitter’s financial troubles and the revolving door at the C.E.O. position. They’ve traded one founding member for another, fired the replacement and brought back the guy everybody hated from before because things were even worse without him. Doesn’t sound too healthy. ‘Tis usually a wounded predator that begins preying on villages.
For all its charms, Twitter seems to suffer from a basic format problem; part psychological, part structural. Retweets and likes are based on a combination of fame and/or having an extremely novel or shocking thing to say. The 140 character limit is great for ADHD-friendly brevity, but the imprecision that comes with brevity in pursuit of humor, shock, or novelty destroys people’s lives and careers. We as a nation went through several cycles of watching the online lynch mobs and shame brigades in action. Maybe many of us were part of it sometimes, unwittingly feeding into the P.C. culture that has prompted such an ugly backlash over the last two years. If kneeling to call for racial equality and refraining from murdering is a big “ask” of America, then it stands to reason being challenged to hold one’s tongue would also be problematic.
Twitter was often a battleground for our brewing culture war, with personally cataclysmic results for individuals who strayed too far from the line. Horror stories were going around. Books were being written. Don’t try too hard to be funny on Twitter. Don’t become a cautionary tale. Everyone seemed to dread making an apology-worthy remark. At the same time that people were regularly going down in flames to public shaming, Twitter appeared to have run out cogent leadership. They had also run short on on ways to innovate. Lack of leadership, lack of vision, and social deterrence represented by the risk of “user error” were forming a perfect storm for corporate stagnation. Blood was in the water.
Traffic on Twitter began to wan as the medium became a victim of the very attention span deficiency it had helped stoke in its own market. At one point things apparently got so desperate, Twitter began sending out emails once a month or so to users suggesting account problems and prompting them to log in to “confirm profile information”, all as a scheme to drive up site and app traffic numbers, typically before shareholder reviews. The only thing more unhealthy than anemic numbers is having to lie and play tricks to even make the numbers look anemic, because the true numbers would be plainly recognized as an emergency and might even trigger a sell-off.
And then along comes a most unusual candidate and the 2016 campaign. The major deterrences to using Twitter are shame and the fear of having one’s life or career ruined. But what if one has no shame? What if one’s brand *is* shamelessness and offensiveness? What if a person comes along who not only can’t be derailed by shame but whose power and prestige actually *feed* off making people upset and offended? For a company like Twitter such a dynamic has the makings of a company-saving cash cow.
The President tweets. News outlets cover his tweets. Millions of citizens and countless government officials log on to Twitter regularly to see what he is saying. Then many of those users write tweets and tweet-storms of their own, reacting to the President’s tweets, debating with each other, and trolling in support or opposition. For the traffic monitors at Twitter, it must have appeared as though an entire ecosystem appeared out of thin air. So much traffic. So much cash. All generated by one man. For a previously ailing company, the President of the United States might very well be manna from Hell.
Which leaves us with a question as to which is the more dangerous addict: the President, who finds the power of social media more compelling than the power of the Oval Office, or Twitter, who can’t be hurting financially from the President’s harassing and hateful conduct, conduct that may even be endangering national security? Without corroborative documentation and primary source testimony, one can’t say with credible certainty that Twitter has been corrupted by the cash flow generated from the President’s tweets. But one can ask; is there a point where they will suspend him in accordance with their own guidelines? If so, how have we not passed that point already?
One of these days it would be nice if Congress got on the case, started asking questions on what appears to be corporate negligence, possibly malfeasance that is well on its way to becoming a national security matter and an existential threat. The question of the President’s Twitter access has been floating in the ether for months now. Maybe it’s time the American people sent some stronger pinch hitters to the plate. People seem to come up with answers in shorter time when they’re talking to taller tables.