We all probably forgot that time last week that Twitter fact-checked the president and put an interstitial on one of his Tweets glorifying violence. Trump and conservatives melted down over Twitter daring to provide the slightest amount of context to two of Trump’s tweets. It felt like an eternity ago.
These last few days have been a chaotic whirlwind and understandably so. Many of our local and state politicians — many Democrats — have proven unwilling or unable to reign in out of control police departments across the country. Peaceful protesters have been brutalized repeatedly simply for kneeling, chanting, or being out after curfew. Journalists across the country have been targeted again and again with rubber bullets and pepper spray, and Trump himself has only proven to be more craven with each passing day.
If you’ll indulge me though, I’d like to go back for a moment to that day last week when Twitter made a rather unprecedented move to provide context to the president’s tweets as well as more recently, Matt’s Gaetz insane tweet wondering whether Antifa could be hunted down like they do with terrorists in the Middle East.
I believe this moment is an important one, because for years both Twitter and Facebook have staunchly defended their largely hands off policy when it came to moderating U.S. politicians. Even today, I fully believe Zuckerberg will burn Facebook to the ground before he ever admits that he’s wrong on this one. On the contrary Jack, you seem to have seen the light or maybe you just said fuck it. Who knows? What’s important is that you’ve astutely ascertained the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position you and Facebook find yourself in now.
People are going to criticize you no matter what you do so don’t let them dictate what you do. Take the course of action that you think is right.
We’ve crossed the Rubicon now.
It’s important to note that there’s no going back now. I’m sure you know that, Jack. Pandora’s box has been opened and the question now is what’s to be done about the mess? I’m sure you’ve been inundated with bad-faith conservative accounts complaining about why the company doesn’t fact-check this supposed liberal injustice or that liberal politician, most of them either too stupid to differentiate facts from opinion or too sad to realize they’re now meaningless, amoral husks of their former selves.
To be fair, the broader point stands though. There was at least some logic to being hands off on almost everything. Bury your head in the sand and no one will come knocking. What you didn’t account for is that people still came knocking for years and no matter how loud you turned up the TV, it all became too hard to ignore. So I applaud you for taking that first step, no matter how messy it was. You certainly threw everyone a curveball, while also sticking it Zuck’s robotic, pasty face. Making every journalist on the planet ask Zuck why he’s in favor of Trump shooting peaceful protesters was a brilliant move.
So now that we’re here, let me propose a tweak to your policy that could help aid in your current fact-checking, truth-telling endeavor. It might also make your life easier too.
Hold politicians to a higher standard than we hold one another.
What I mean by that is that you, as a company in partnership of course with a variety of fact-checking organizations and news agencies should craft a new policy that essentially holds U.S. politicians across the board to a higher moderation standard than regular users. What that would mean in practice is I want those little context tags and interstitials on politicians tweets left and right. Some podunk representative from the middle of nowhere spouts off about racism, tag his tweet with a “Learn more about being an anti-racist” button. Trump blathers on about how he’s the worst treated president in history? I want that tweet branded with a “Learn how several presidents were actually assassinated in office” link.
Democrats, of course, wouldn’t be safe either, though I suspect you’ll find one party is a far worse offender than the other. I won’t spoil who it is, but if Joe Biden says some clunky old-timey borderline racist thing, some context would actually be pretty welcome in that situation. If some other made up Democratic makes some stuff up, I’d hope you’d tag that tweet in seconds.
I’m being a bit cheeky, but the point is that these our are representatives to Congress. They should be held to a higher truth-telling standard, not a lower one. Telling the truth is not only a basic vital standard of democracy it’s crucial to society at large. If our politicians aren’t expected to tell the truth, than we’re doomed.
And on our own it can be hard to hold them accountable. It’s crystal clear that simply documenting their lies in a vast online archive isn’t enough. Not for you Twitter. You have power you just have to own it. Imagine a world where every harmful lie a politician told was also a billboard for the truth. Context would abound and political ads would have substance again. It might even incentivize politicians to recalibrate their rhetoric.
You can make that world happen, Twitter. I know you weren’t elected for this job, but sometimes the unlikely hero doesn’t claim power but has it thrust upon him. Also, U.S. democracy is a bullshit concept that claims to give you far more representation in government than you actually have and frankly, I’ve convinced at least thirty percent of my fellow citizens just want to watch the world burn.
So like I said, Jack. Lean in. Embrace your moderation policy to the fullest extent and hold politicians to the truth. Also “arbiter of truth” ain’t a bad line on your LinkedIn profile either. Because while Zuck has a point when it comes to leaving politician’s heinous lies up for all to see, his free speech, hands off approach is going to get us all killed.