A few days ago Donald Trump, the President of the United States tweeted, as he usually does
But, what was unusual was that twitter slapped a fact check label on this, that derailed the not very stable President of the US. He responded by tweeting this
But, he just didn’t tweet. Given his oversized ego, and his vindictive nature, he signed an executive order that would hold social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook responsible for the rantings of its users. In the USA the platforms are exempt from legal liability, and Trump has just overturned that. (In India, intermediaries are provided a conditional safe harbour, but in the absence of the absolute right to free speech, the Government may request social media platforms to take down content that it deems dangerous)
Facebook, which has allowed our data to be manipulated by sophisticated marketeers, and has used its algorithms to push fake news, because it delivers more engagement, had a radically different point of view from Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook stated
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told Fox News. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”Zuckerberg says Facebook won’t be ‘arbiters of truth’ after Trump threat, The Guardian
Both platforms that form such a vital part of our political discourse, have taken diametrically different stands as far as freedoms are concerned. Jack Dorsey led Twitter, went one step further the day after Trump issued his threats against the platform, by flagging another tweet by Trump
This is how the above tweets would appear on most timelines
While Zuckerberg, was more measured on the response.
I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies. We looked very closely at the post that discussed the protests in Minnesota to evaluate whether it violated our policies. Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.Zuckerberg, Facebook post
The point is that while there could be ideological differences between Dorsey who runs twitter, and Zuckerberg who runs Facebook – the fundamental difference is the nature of business models. Facebook makes a lot of money through political advertising – at the local, state, national, and international levels – and it cannot jeopardize that by censoring politicians telling lies, or calling for violence. Remember that old joke – how do you tell a politician is lying? his lips move. On the other hand, Dorsey and Twitter have refused political advertising as of last year, and that makes them freer to follow their own company’s guidelines on fake news and violence.
Ultimately the question is what is freedom. Is it the right to tell lies? Is it the right to spread hate? is it the right to call for violence? And, most of us would say no. And, that is the difference between Facebook and Twitter, and their interpretation of freedom. For Facebook, it seems to be the freedom to do business as usual. For Twitter, freed up of the advertiser pressure, it is the freedom to follow their policies on fake news, and calls for violence.
I don’t believe that a person who threatens to rape and murder you, or to shoot you down, or tells you, falsely, that community x did action y, should allow to pass unchallenged by a platform. The more the fakes on a platform, the higher the chance of it not being trusted. Ultimately, all of us have a somewhat compact of trust on Social. If that compact is routinely broken with no method of redressal, trust in the network will decrease.
I have personally been less engaged with Facebook, though i am still on it because my extended family is on it, since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. Twitter still has the trolls who routinely abuse, but there is a method to ensure redressal.
Finally, when FB tells us it is not an arbitrator of the truth, it is not quite being truthful. In an internet that thrives on anonymity – and twitter has its anon handles, some of whom are my friends (really) – it insists on true names. It insists on addressability. It does other things that verify you as you. And, the moment you are verified as you, your tendency to behave better increases. It has also run content on verified coronavirus news. It also intervenes regularly in the affairs of other geogrpahies, whether on orders from the local Government, or to keep the powers that are happy, is yet to be ascertained because Facebook is not very transparent about the process. For example, a page on understanding the Indian Constitution was disabled
Also, two days ago, Facebook said that it would tag posts run by Government media
The tags will immediately begin to appear on pages belonging to media such as Russia Today and China’s Xinhua. Starting next week, users in the United States will begin to see the label appear in the individual publications of these points of sale, labels that will eventually be introduced in other countries.
Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s security policy, told CNN Business in an interview on Thursday that the company is taking that approach to let users know more about the origin of their information.
“The concern for us is that the state media combine the agenda setting power of a media entity with the strategic backing of a state,” said Gleicher. “If you are reading the coverage of a protest, it is really important to know who is writing that coverage and what motivation they have. The goal of this is to ensure that the public sees and understands who is behind it.”Facebook to start labeling state media
As America gears up for the elections in November, there is going to be bloodbath on social media. The amount of fakes, the amount of calls for violence, hate speech is only going to increase. It would be interesting to see what the tech giants do, because that will have implications for all their other markets, including India