Ethics Dunce: Twitter

Twitter crossed the digital Rubicon this week, as we had to know it would sooner or later.  It added qualifying links to two of President Trump’s tweets  about mail-in ballots, in which he claimed they would cause the 2020 Presidential election to be “rigged.” The New York Times, typically, wrote that he “falsely” predicted that result, and there you have it: social media now is choosing to use its power to tell the public what opinions are “true.”…just like the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media.

The links — which were in blue lettering at the bottom of the posts and punctuated by  exclamation marks — urged people to “get the facts” about voting by mail. Clicking on the links led to a CNN story that said Mr. Trump’s claims were unsubstantiated and to a list of bullet points that Twitter had compiled rebutting the “inaccuracies.”

Because CNN is where reasonable people go who want “the facts.”

Twitter, as a private rather than a government communications platform, can do this if it chooses, and the consequences to the company are likely to be far less serious than the consequences to public discourse. There is no way this kind of policing of speech, from the President or anyone else, can be done fairly, consistently and even-handedly. Already, Twitter has demonstrated hard ideological bias in its choices of which Twitter users to suspend or otherwise censor, and this escalation opens the door wide to more abuse. Will Twitter be similarly vigilant in calling out Democrats, activists, pundits and journalists on their excesses? You know they won’t; they couldn’t if they tried. Twitter’s wan excuse is that Trump’s tweets are special. I suspect the company is setting itself up for some serious federal regulation.

Experts told the Times that the development indicated how social media platforms that had once declared themselves neutral “were increasingly having to abandon that stance.” Bullhockey: they don’t “have” to abandon that stance; they are choosing to abandon that stance as part of the tech sector’s determination to get rid of Trump.

“This is the first time that Twitter has done something that has in some small way attempted to rein in the president,” said Tiffany C. Li, a visiting professor at Boston University School of Law. “There’s been a gradual shift in the way that Twitter has treated content moderation. You see them taking on more of their duty and responsibility to create a healthy online speech environment.”

There it is; the academic bias against the President bolstering the tech sector bias. A healthy online speech environment is one that mirrors the First Amendment. Amusingly, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticized Twitter for its move, telling Fox News that privately-owned digital platforms should not act as the “arbiter of truth.”

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he added. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Great. Someone ask Mark why Facebook won’t permit users to post Ethics Alarms articles, if that’s the way he feels.

Of course, the President is fulminating and blustering about “free speech”—he really doesn’t understand the Constitution—but he has a perfectly effective response in hand: end his Twitter account, and start a Facebook page. Meanwhile, I’ll violate my own rule against boycotts by noting that Republicans, fair-minded journalists, free speech supporters and anyone else who opposes manipulation of public opinion should hit Twitter where it hurts, and stop using the platform. It’s a dangerous and destructive force in American culture anyway, and now that it has decided to be the online authority on what opinions are acceptable, it is one more of many threats to our democracy that ought to be firmly opposed.

I’ll give Twitter a little bit of time to reconsider and back off, but absent a reversal, I’ll be shutting down my account.


11 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Twitter

  1. I am happy I have never had a Twitter account. When I consider the sheer number of times I have had to recompose an e-mail because my first ten or fifteen drafts probably would have had me packing up my office were I to actually send it, I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have means of bombarding the world with my unfiltered thoughts.

    I have always felt that Twitter sat towards the bottom of our societal slide into irrationality. Once upon time, people composed long, thoughtful prose that, after several meticulous edits, would be proffered for public consumption. But handwriting takes too long both to craft and deliver. Thankfully, we have e-mail so that delivery will happen quickly. But people might not get around to reading their e-mail for the better part of the day. Thankfully we have texts! We can contact people instantly via text. We’re character limited, though, so we better abandon useless things like spelling, punctuation, grammar, and we’d better abbreviate as much as we can so we can fit it all in. But, texts just go out to people in our contacts. We need to get our thoughts, truncated and spontaneous as they are (sort of like little sparks that jump the ends of two wires brought close together, but don’t quite touch) out to the whole world! So now we have nothing substantial to say, but an entire stage on which to say it, as long as we say it in the character limitations!

    And now, the random firings of my neurons spent, I shall slink away back to my work.

  2. Twitter is the online version of an angry mob. I know of nothing good that has come out of Twitter and of a great deal of societal and cultural harm that has.

  3. Twitter did not place any fact checks on Ice Cube’s picture of a cop with a person with a red hat with the inscription make whiteness great again in a tweet related to George Floyd. It was not any of the cops involved in that incident. The image was a photoshop compilation.

    Jack Dorsey’s censorship is one sided. When was the last time he fact checked any member of Congress or Governor Newsome

  4. I remember a time when Twitter was new, fun, and my favorite microblogging platform. I was an early and enthusiastic adopter.

    That all changed when politics took it over, and everyone discovered that you could be a rude asshole and get away with it. Plus, if you really didn’t like somebody, you could tweet at the companies that employed them and demand they be fired. At some point, companies started using automated services to judge when a critical mass of commentary had come in, and actioning it in order to get more ad impressions by garnering likes, retweets, and follows.

    Then, the news media picked up on it, and every event had a Twitter feed which they made useful by showing certain user’s tweets, garnering them likes, retweets and follows. Eventually, the idea you could become famous by getting more likes and followers became an addiction, and from that addiction rose today’s hellscape that Twitter has become. You’re just not important if you don’t have a certain number of followers.

    I use it for exactly one thing — to write my weekly blog post which is similar to the ethics warm-ups here, and I don’t own the account anymore. Perhaps the only redeeming feature with Twitter is that breaking news is more instantaneous there than with any search engines, which take hours to find what Twitter users locate in seconds.

    Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is a virulent leftist with absolutely no ethical principles guiding him that I can discern. That he is in the process of forcing America to destroy his platform demonstrates that the smartest people can also be among the stupidest. Even many on the Left detest him.

  5. I saw some news articles about the Executive Order. It seems to be an attempt to use the public forum argument as well as a clarification of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in an attempt to allow as many websites to maintain discretion in posts they find bannable, while also bringing action against websites that do not act in good faith under Section 230. It appears to be a well thought out response, and I hope it won’t be another case of government involvement making the situation worse.

    Here’s the Executive Order from the White House website:

    • Thanks for the link. I just finished reading it.

      My only concerns are that. ” good faith ” is always a moving target and the references to the PRC. The only way to ensure open discourse is to make it wide open and block nothing. If someone posts child porn or something deemed inappropriate for kids then Congress has or can legislate against such content. In such cases the platform retains its liability protections when it discloses the identification of such posters to authorities.

      I am unsure whether free speech means anonymous speech. If people feel compelled to speak then I believe they should own their words. Maybe that might people a little less vicious in their tweets and posts

      • That moving target of good faith also gives me a concern. I am generally against government intervention into most matters. We’ll have to see in a month whether anything actually comes from this Executive Order.

  6. Everything I wish to know about “Community Standards” is summed up in your blog being treated like Mein Kampf by FB.

  7. 90%+ of the value Twitter provides is connecting with smart people and having interesting interactions with them. My little Twitter social circle, seeing this was going to happen, moved all the interesting conversations to a private group chat in a different platform. That one thing greatly reduced our usage of Twitter, and if it goes away it won’t be something we’ll be sad about.

  8. This analysis leaves out the fact that President Trump’s Twitter account is different than all other Twitter accounts. He was sued over blocking people from his account. The district and appeals courts found that Trump’s Twitter account is used for official business and is, in effect, a government-run account and so is a public forum. Trump can’t censor his Twitter feed. He probably is not allowed to delete Tweets. His Twitter feed is subject to the First Amendment. So why does a tech billionaire get to censor and ‘correct’ the public record? Why does Jack Dorsey get to modify the public forum? Why does CNN get to determine what is ‘true’ or not in the public space?

    Click to access 2019.07.09_ECF-141-1_Opinion.pdf

    • Sorry about that. I thought it would list a link, not embed the entire document with scrolling. Curse my urge to cite sources.

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