Predictably, Facebook made a different choice
Twitter finally labeled two of President Trump’s tweets as misleading this week, adding labels with factually accurate information on two tweets about mail-in voting. Twitter also placed a warning label on two more Trump tweets for violating its policy aginst glorifying violence. These actions are in line with recent policy tweaks Twitter has announced, and I covered extensively in the last newsletter. Twitter had previously confirmed that these changes would apply to world leaders.
Watching Twitter build up to this moment over the past several weeks has been fascinating. They’ve been rolling out these policy changes slowly but deliberately. At the same time, Trump’s tweets have become more and more erratic and extreme, almost as if he was daring Twitter to act. It played out like a game of chicken.
This week actually began with an outcry over completely different tweets. Trump’s tweets accusing cable TV host Joe Scarborough of murdering a woman who died of natural causes, and spreading conspiracy theories about her death caused great pain and anguish to her family. Her widower made a personal appeal to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking him to remove Trump’s tweets. Twitter declined to remove the tweets, but their statement acknowledged that they didn’t yet have a policy on what to do when the President uses their platform to baselessly accuses a cable TV host of murder and wreaks havoc on a grieving family for no good reason.
Murder conspiracy tweets wasn’t the fight Twitter was preparing for and they punted quickly. But to Twitter’s credit on the same day they went ahead and labeled vote by mail Trump’s tweets.
President Trump’s response and the response of his administration and supporters was as measured and reasonable as you’d expect in that the response has been the complete opposite of measured and reasonable. Most of the response is predictable as the pro-Trump playbook really doesn’t vary. But there are two things worth noting here. The first is a campaign to bait Trump’s supporters into harassing Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth. Trump has tweeted about Roth using his handle and Kellyanne Conway used an appearance on Fox News to encourage Trump supporters to harass Roth and took the time to spell out his Twitter handle!
The second is that Trump signed a long-rumored executive order that according to the Washington Post’s Tony Romm “could open the door for federal regulators to punish Facebook, Google, and Twitter for the way they police content online.” The Verge has a comprehensive rundown of what’s in the order calling it “a censorship bill that potentially covers almost any part of the web”
The question is what will Twitter do now. Will they stay the course or cave under the pressure? I’m optimistic that it will be the former. As I said, Twitter has been laying the groundwork here for awhile. They also know what Trump’s response was going to be because again the playbook doesn’t vary. As Twitter’s Head of Global Communications told OneZero’s Will Oremus “…we knew from a comms perspective that all hell would break loose.”
Meanwhile, Facebook has gone out of its way to distance itself from Twitter’s actions and plead with the Trump Administration not to paint Facebook with the same brush. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went on Fox News Wednesday night to assure the President that Facebook wouldn’t be fact-checking Trump like Twitter had. The only reason for Zuckerberg to go on Trump’s favorite TV channel is to try and get the President’s attention. Apparently, it worked because by the next morning the White House press secretary was praising Zuckerberg.
Facebook’s response was gross but not at all surprising. As the Wall Street Journal reported just this week Facebook has known internally for some time that their algorithms were driving divisiveness and political polarization. They shelved the research rather than act on it in part because “some proposed changes would have disproportionately affected conservative users and publishers, at a time when the company faced accusations from the right of political bias.” Per research from Media Matter Facebook, which refuses to fact check political ads, is letting the Trump campaign publish at least 529 ads with false claims of voter fraud. And as Judd Legum has Facebook’s DC office leadership is made up almost entirely of veteran Republican political operatives.
A large contingent of Facebook’s employees are unhappy with Facebook’s actions. The Verge’s Casey Newton has leaked internal posts from Facebook where employees expressed frustration at the company’s decision and urged them to reconsider. Zuckerberg addressed the issue publicly in a post and internally via a video chat on Friday evening. Based on reporting from The New York Times’ Mike Isaac, it sounds like the chat didn’t help employee morale much.
It’s also worth remembering that Facebook and Twitter have a different relationship with Trump World. Twitter isn’t selling political ads this cycle, but Facebook is and Trump reelection campaign and the various pro-Trump Super PACs are Facebook’s customers.
While I continue to believe that Twitter’s world leaders policy is misguided, I appreciate the way they’ve rolled these changes out and that so far they’re sticking with them. Trump clearly isn’t going to stop tweeting disinformation, conspiracies, or inciting violence. I’m glad that Twitter now has a framework to do something about it.
The above article is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt-Right Delete, a newsletter devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism, disinformation, and online toxicity, delivered on a weekly basis to more than 16,000 subscribers.