The social media company that kept President Donald Trump posting non-stop for years has turned around this year. Amid the election consequences, it interfered with the president’s tweets about electoral fraud, postal voting, and unsubstantiated claims that he had won the election.
Now the outgoing president is finding it difficult to post on his favorite website. Trump’s infamous Twitter account is a shadow of his former self, full of labels, warnings, and interstitials, thanks to Twitter’s recent moves to flag inaccurate tweets and belittle unproven claims that violate company policies. (Since election night, 28 of Trump’s tweets – plus a number of retweets – have either been restricted or flagged according to Twitter’s guidelines.)
“[The decisions to restrict tweets are] It is easy in that there is academic, journalistic and public consensus about the absence of electoral fraud and how our elections work, ”Shannon McGregor, assistant professor and senior researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Adweek. “Compared to more partisan subjects, these calls are relatively easy to make.”
Trump’s commitment is key to his strategy. It’s also what sets Twitter apart from other platforms like Facebook and YouTube, according to industry insiders and scholars.
Like other platforms, Twitter uses a combination of technical and human review to moderate content. While Facebook and YouTube put contextual labels on the president’s untrue posts so users could get additional information from trusted sources, the companies did not reduce the algorithmic distribution of the posts.
“For social media, the real power lies in spreading these organic messages,” said Cuihua (Cindy) Shen, associate professor of communications at the University of California at Davis. “In that regard, I think Twitter does a much better job than Facebook at creating friction and preventing the organic spread of misinformation.”
Facebook and YouTube didn’t immediately return a call to clarify whether they were throttling algorithmic distribution for flagged posts.
Twitter has been on this path for a while.
Earlier this year, the platform adopted and started enforcing new guidelines that were inconsistent with the American President’s online antics. The problem came to a head in early summer at the height of the George Floyd protests. Twitter and Facebook had different views on whether the president’s posts posed a real threat of violence. The aftermath of Facebook’s laissez-faire approach resulted in a massive boycott of advertisers and prompted the platform to pursue approaches that were more similar to Twitter’s. (The decision-making and influence of Twitter was part of the reason Adweek CEO named Jack Dorsey Digital Executive of the Year.)
After a summer of flagging and restricting Trump’s illegal tweets that violated his civic integrity guidelines, including glorifying violence and spreading misinformation about Covid-19, Twitter sharpened its blade ahead of Election Day. The company added false claims about electoral integrity and premature victory claims to its civil integrity policy.
Despite criticism for not curbing the spread of misinformation, the contextual labels used by Facebook and YouTube can be helpful.
“There is some academic evidence in the field that suggests that people respond to the type of fact-checking or the type of interstitials they do [Facebook and YouTube] endure, “said Emily K. Vraga, associate professor at the University of Minnesota. Vraga said that displaying factual information from trusted sources after a user sees misinformation “reduces their misperception [and] bring them closer to the truth. “