Twitter is one of the great Social Media platforms available today. It helps people express themselves, connect with others, and facilitates transparent debates and discussions on a variety of topics. Consequently, it has also become the platform of choice for leading personalities across the globe to be able to reach their audience directly. It is needless to say that politicians and world leaders extensively use Twitter to reach millions of followers at once. US President Donald Trump and Indian PM Narendra Modi are the two most followed world leaders on Twitter.
One of the very helpful aspect of Twitter is that it has brought much needed transparency to Customer Care, in general. Many companies providing various products and services are present on Twitter and a commoner can get their attention very easily just by tagging them in a tweet. As the interaction is happening transparently in public domain, customer care tries to be more empathetic for obvious reasons. It has worked brilliantly for me many a times in the past.
But, like any public platform, there are some good and some bad things associated with Twitter as well. At times, Twitter has found itself mired in controversies. In the past, I had written an article on Shadow Ban explaining how the reach of a Twitter user is reduced through various means.
Donald J Trump – Twitter Controversy
Very recently, Twitter got itself embroiled into an uncalled-for controversy. Twitter decided to affix a fact check label to a tweet of the US President Donald J Trump. Ironically, the label was a link pointing to an article on CNN about the mail in ballots. It is worth noting that CNN has been regarded as ‘Fake News’ by Trump several times in the past. The very next day, Twitter marked a tweet from Trump as glorifying violence.
This behavior from Twitter has made Trump furious. The President has called this an interference by Twitter in the 2020 Presidential election. Subsequently, Trump has signed an executive order that strips the social media platforms of the immunity they enjoy for user content posted on the platform.
There have been myriad reports of political bias being faced by the some users on Twitter. The recent action from Twitter just gave Trump a reason to pass the order. The order is based on Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act and it follows the following logic:
If you can’t be held legally responsible for the content posted on the platform, you shall not police the content. If you wish to police the content, you have to take the responsibility for all the content on your platform and you shall be held responsible. You can’t selectively target users.
The Menace of Fake News
The spread of misinformation and fake news has done a great disservice to the society. Almost all the public platforms have been trying to devise ways to prevent the spread of fake news. Yet, there has been little success. At this point of time, there is no technology available to automatically and impartially ascertain the validity of a statement.
When we are using a public platform, we do have to account for the fact that there would be some miscreants that will not play fair. On Twitter, such miscreants generally spread misinformation or fake news (besides abusing and harassing other users). But there are many users that fight this misinformation and put the facts in public domain. Sometimes they invest time for extensive research and investigation to show truth.
Impartial and Free Platforms Can Handle Fake News
Every piece of misinformation can harm the society while some people may get benefited from it. When both these groups are engaged on the platform, it generates enough information for anybody to figure out the reality. When I have to ascertain the validity of something claimed in a tweet, my first action is to check the responses to that tweet. In 90% of cases, I get the other side of the story in the responses.
The ability of anybody to be able to respond to a comment made by someone (no matter how powerful) is what makes Twitter a great public platform. Sometimes some people misuse this openness and cause nuisance, but, there are ways to ignore them. In fact, Twitter algorithms are now becoming expert in identifying and hiding the abusive responses.
But, it is the open interaction that can help anybody check the flow of a false narrative on Twitter.
New Feature Restricting Replies
Recently, Twitter announced a new feature in test that will allow a user to decide who can reply to a tweet. This feature is an extension to the ‘Hide Reply’ feature currently in use on Twitter. The ‘Hide Reply’ allows a user to Hide a reply from being visible in the conversation. While I never liked (and never used) this feature, I understand that somebody may want to hide certain replies if they are derogatory and don’t add any value to the conversation.
The new proposed feature would allow only a select few to be able to reply to a conversation. This may be misused by someone to post something that he/she doesn’t want to be challenged by common users. Such posts won’t get the public scrutiny and may eventually becomes a way of spreading fake news or false propaganda. It is not yet clear as to whether this feature will be made available to all or (even worse) only a select few. But, anything that stifles the open interaction on the platform and makes it one way communication is bad. It takes away the power the social media has given to common people. Remember how some mainstream media houses were used as propaganda tools in the past? One way communication on Twitter may allow people to publish their propaganda and get away with it.
One Man’s Fact Check is another Man’s Fake News
In the past there have been many controversies about the left leaning Twitter. There was a sting showing how they Shadow Banned users that posted content not in line with the political thinking of the moderators. While Trump called CNN as fake news several times during his press interactions, Twitter used CNN as a fact check resource for Trump’s tweet. In today’s highly divided world, one man’s fact check is another man’s fake news. The Co-founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg reacted to Twitter’s action saying social media sites should not play arbiters of truth.
The new feature being developed by Twitter may give rise to echo chambers and let the propaganda sail through. Imagine a scenario where a rogue journalist (who did you think of ?) pushes a politically motivated fake news item through a tweet where nobody can reply but a few more rogue journalists from the same school of thought. Also imagine that Twitter decides not to fact check these tweets. Now after carefully cultivating some stories in pliant mainstream media houses confirming the ‘facts’ discussed on the concerned tweetersation (tweet conversation), it will become ‘gospel truth’.
Twitter sees around 500 million tweets everyday. It is crazy to think about fact checking all of them.
If Twitter says it is trying to hold big Handles to a higher standard, there can’t be different standards for different users. Also holding political opponents to ‘higher’ standards is what the corrupt mainstream media houses did in the past while masquerading as impartial seekers of truth.
Twitter has neither the technological nor the ethical capability needed to fact check what a user is saying. The fact check business will only hamper Twitter’s reputation more.
The new feature in test may potentially become a way of spreading fake news. Don’t stifle the free conversation. If you wish to reduce noise by the so called ‘reply guys’, push their tweets below in the conversation.
What’s your opinion on this? Leave your reply in the comment box below.