Weird News

Don’t be fooled, Twitter is still a hellscape

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey may be riding a wave of goodwill after he dunked on Mark Zuckerberg, but don’t be fooled: Twitter is still a burning hellscape. 

Sure, Dorsey’s decision to disallow political ads on Twitter deserves some praise. He is, after all, willing to take a step that Zuckerberg and Facebook are too cowardly to take, setting a precedent that’s been lacking in social media.

And, as he made the announcement, Dorsey was smart enough to throw some thinly veiled shade at Zuckerberg’s “free speech” claims. 

It ingratiated Dorsey with the digital mob that was (rightly) roasting Zuckerberg for grievous mistakes like allowing politicians to lie in Facebook ads and roping in right-wing tire fire Breitbart as part of its News initiative.

It was the second time within a week that Dorsey heaped scorn on Zuckerberg, having previously decried Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency Libra as “bullshit.” That the remark came a day after Zuckerberg was pilloried by a congressional committee, which only added to the snowballing schadenfreude on social media. 

But don’t let Dorsey’s snark and positioning as the anti-Zuckerberg fool you. Dorsey’s Twitter may not share the recent bad headlines, but it’s just as complicit as Facebook in allowing politicians to spread lies.

Lies, damn lies

You don’t have to look any further than President Donald Trump for how Twitter has contributed to the decay of truth and discourse online. For instance, on Oct. 5, 2019, Trump tweeted that information from the whistleblower about his infamous, alleged Ukraine quid pro quo phone call was “almost completely wrong.”

In fact, the whistleblower’s information was almost completely right with their assertions backed by the White House’s own memorandum on the call. And Trump hasn’t stopped tweeting accusations that the whistleblower was lying. 

This isn’t great, Jack! 

But these sorts of political “alternative facts” aren’t nearly as egregious as the racially charged rhetoric and military threats that Trump has littered his Twitter feed with — tweets that have real-world consequences. 

Protected racist speech

In September, Trump happily tweeted a video from another user that claimed to show U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) celebrating the terrorist attacks of September 11. The video was fake but that didn’t stop Trump from sharing and spreading the fake video to 66.6 million followers and didn’t stop several of Trump’s followers from sending death threats to Omar. 

Then there was the infamous “nuclear button” tweet which left no room for ambiguity: Trump literally threatening North Korea with nuclear war. 

Trump’s huffing and puffing at North Korea reached such a fever pitch in January 2018 that when, days after the button tweet, a false missile alert was sent to Hawaii residents, many believed it was an attack by North Korea.

And, yet, Twitter twisted itself in knots in the aftermath to explain how threatening nuclear war “did not violate our terms of service.” More galling was the decision by Twitter to double down on allowing Trump’s tweet to stand.

Said Twitter at the time, “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”

In June 2019, Twitter rolled out a new policy of flagging and demoting tweets by political leaders of a certain stature that would otherwise be a violation of its rules. As if on cue, a few weeks later, Trump sent out a blistering, racist tweet rant aimed at several House Democrats, including the aforementioned Rep. Omar.

Predictably, these tweets weren’t flagged by Twitter and, as far as I can tell, no other Trump tweets have, either. 

Nazis, hate speech, and fake news

This is hardly a surprise. Remember, this is the same platform that wrung its hands over how to handle the accounts of literal Nazis. Even after it performed a large-scale bulldozing of white supremacist accounts in late 2017, the platform is plagued by them. 

Oh, and there was the ridiculous back-and-forth about whether or not to boot Alex Jones and Info Wars before finally making the right decision and implementing a ban. Dorsey himself admitted that curbing hate speech on Twitter has been a slow process that’s included several stumbles.

This goes beyond even Trump and Nazis, though. While Dorsey dunks on Zuckerberg, Twitter remains a cesspool of misinformation and outright lies that spread like wildfire. A 2018 study from Science found that false news was 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than factual news and that it was actual humans doing much of the retweeting, not bots. (And speaking of bots, Russian bots were just as successful at infiltrating Twitter ahead of the 2016 election as they were with Facebook.)

So, sure, Dorsey’s cutting remarks at Zuckerberg were on point. But they were also the barbs of a man mocking his neighbor’s home for having no walls, while his own house burned down from the inside. 

As long as Twitter is fine letting politicians, particularly ones with as large a following as Trump, lie ad infinitum, what does it matter what ads it ban? 

Dorsey can crow from the mountaintop about how much better that policy is than Facebook’s, but that’s ignoring the obvious: Twitter and Facebook are two platforms cut from the same cloth and no amount of window dressing should trick users in to thinking one is anymore noble or altruistic than the other. 

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