Twitter’s stock took a hit yesterday after news resurfaced that Fox News had not tweeted for three weeks. The publication stopped tweeting after activists posted news host Tucker Carlson’s home address on Twitter, which reportedly did not remove it in a timely fashion. Also yesterday, an alt-right activist handcuffed herself to Twitter’s NYC headquarters.
Here’s what I argued last year, when Twitter started changing its rules for Trump:
Trump has broken Twitter’s rules many times: before his campaign, during the 2016 primaries and election, not to mention as president. Some of them are newsworthy, sure, but Trump often simply insults individuals just because. Twitter hasn’t enforced its rules in any of these cases. The company hasn’t hidden Trump’s tweets, deleted anything, or banned the offending account.
Twitter has always said its rules apply to all users. But Twitter doesn’t act like it, and Trump is the prime example of this.
And now, the company is arguing that the rules don’t apply to Trump. Because everything the president tweets is newsworthy.
Twitter has moved the line, but in the wrong direction. Anytime Trump tweets something that breaks its rules, the company should sit down and carefully decide what to do. Is the tweet of critical importance or is it pointlessly offensive? The decision is harder than it would be for most other accounts, but all options should be on the table.
Twitter has shown it is too cowardly to make hard decisions every time Trump tweets. So it created a loophole for him.
Then came Alex Jones. Twitter bent over backwards to keep his hate speech on the platform before finally capitulating. Where various other companies quickly realized enough was enough, Twitter was once again stuck rewriting its own rules to accommodate.
Because of what Twitter did with Trump, its default has become “debate and delay.” Twitter would rather update its rules than apply them — focusing on exceptions for a few rather than enforcement for all.
This is incredibly resource-draining. It leads to problems like Carlson’s address staying on the site too long, or taking six years to remove a fake Vladimir Putin account with over a million followers, which coincidentally also happened yesterday.
Even more importantly, it sends the wrong message. People see what high-profile users get away with, and are more emboldened to break the rules too. This leads to more and more gray areas. You have everything from trolls feeling empowered to ordinary users more likely to disregard the rules.
Even without the gray areas, and before the Donald Trump exception, there was rule-breaking on Twitter. But it’s gotten worse. And I don’t blame Trump for it — I blame Twitter.
This is Twitter’s platform. It’s up to the company to decide, shape, and nurture a civil forum or a cesspool.
Every few months there is a high-profile case of Twitter doing something wrong, according to its own determination on what is wrong. But not a week goes by without Twitter enforcing its own rules in some bizarre, contorted fashion for lower-profile users.
This isn’t just about Trump, conservatives, or even all trolls. It’s about the health of the social network.
It’s about the trust in Twitter, which continues to erode, regardless of your political leaning.
Trump won’t be the U.S. president forever. Fox News could start tweeting again next month. Conservatives aren’t going to abandon Twitter en masse.
But rebuilding that trust is paramount if Twitter is going to survive. Unfortunately for Twitter, ever since the company refused to put its foot down, all it has been doing is digging itself into a deeper hole.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.