The war between Twitter and US President is fully under way with both sides taking shots at each other and the world watching on in anticipation of the outcome. But are we witnessing a new era in social media where forced to act on the blatant inconsistencies and rule breaking of platform polices, tech companies like Twitter are now reacting, or is it case of it simply being a business decision, fueled by the prospect of new markets and users. Ken Sweeney discusses.
Trump has gone to war, but not the way you expected it. His recent online declaration of hostilities against social media companies in the form of a executive order seeking to strip social media giants of legal immunity for content posted by users has sparked a reaction from the CEOs of both Twitter and Facebook. While both responses couldn’t be more different, this week will probably be a milestone in the history of social media, as its outcome will determine just how influential it has become.
It all kicked off a few days ago when Trump tweeted about postal voting. Trump has over 80 million followers on Twitter, which is significant, but not the biggest following on Twitter, despite what many of his supporters may think. Former US President Barack Obama has, for example, over 110 million followers which tends to rile Trump no end.
The tweet which claimed that “Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent” sparked what many think was long overdue response by Twitter who posted under the tweets a link which read “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” and calling the claims “unsubstantiated”, citing reports by CNN, the Washington Post and other media, many of which Trump has continuously labeled as purveyors of fake news.
Since then, the US President has taken on what is seen by many as a personal vendetta against the medium, which he has been enjoying as his main campaign portal, and has used his position of privilege to push an executive order against the big players in social media.
Twitter has responded through their often vocal CEO, Jack Dorsey, who stated that “there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me.” Dorsey went on to say “Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”
Meanwhile on Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg was less than supportive of his social media rival when he said in an interview with Fox news that “we have a different policy, I think than Twitter on this.” He added, “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. In general, private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Trump was again in the firing line when Twitter moved on another of his inflammatory tweets, this time on his comments about riots taking place in Minneapolis, which was facing a third night of arson, looting and vandalism as protesters vented their rage over Mr Floyd’s death. Despite four police officers involved in Mr Floyd’s death and only one being arrested, so far no definitive actions have been taken against the other three officers, and local citizens are reacting. Mr Trump comments in the tweet irked the Twitter team who moved to flag it as incitement to violence and hide the tweet.
The stage has now been set with the players all lined up for battle, but the question is who are the real opponents, because it isn’t that clear if Trump is nothing more then a pawn in a bigger war between the big two of Twitter and Facebook. Facebook and Twitter are clearly eyeing up each others territory and with Facebook holding a lead in areas such as Asia and Europe, the first social media war maybe just around the corner, with victory being a direct stake in democracy across the world.
It may also be that Trump, and as a consequence the US government, may have bitten off more than they can chew by taking on the biggest short word sounding board the world has ever seen. Twitter is enormous with more than 321 million monthly active users and with over 25% of users based in the US.
The big question is, why has Dorsey and co decided that now is the time to strike out and put a stop to the endless stream of inflammatory, untrue and crude attacks against Trump’s opponents. Could it be that he has weighed up the choice of keeping 80 million followers, many of whom are considered fake or ‘bot’ profiles, against the friends he will make elsewhere, such as in the EU, where tech giants are under intense scrutiny. It’s not just Democrats and Republicans battling for hearts and minds, Twitter and Facebook are too.
It must also be considered that when you look at the leading giants in the AltRight, particularly in the US, their followers tend to gravitate to similar profiles when looking for new profiles to follow. They are all supporting each other which means that each of the leading advocates of Trump all have the same support base. This is bad news for the right, because when you take, for example, Taylor Swift, she has 80 million followers who are now voting age, but the vast majority of them are not say, followers of Obama or Clinton. Swift tweeted a response to Trump, where she said “After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looting starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November.”
This may be a positive thing, because it means that a huge majority of people who follow completely different channels are all united against Trump and this is the maths that Twitter are doing now. It’s already happening and Twitter will gain massively, whatever the outcome.
The next few weeks will probably be the most interesting period on social media history, with Trump already upping his battle and slightly rewording his marked tweets in a direct provocation. Will Dorsey authorise a ban on Trump, or even worse, excommunication from Twitter? It’s unclear how far this will go, but Trump has history on provoking to an extent before backing down in a claim to victory, so it will be a real test for both parties with the winner gaining the ultimate prize – a developing stake in the democracy of the free world.