After 4 years of timidity, Facebook and Twitter are finally taking basic steps to curb Trump's worst instincts
- The two companies have variously fact-checked, hidden, or added warning labels to posts and ads from the president over the last month.
- It is a major shift from their earlier hands-off approach.
- But the action comes after four years of timidity, when the platforms struggled to regulate a president who regularly violates the norms of responsible
After four years of timidity, Silicon Valley is finally standing up to President Donald Trump.
Trump has upended the norms of responsible free speech, communicating vitriol and new policy in equal measure directly to his huge followings on Twitter and Facebook.
Since taking office in 2016, Trump has tweeted around 17,000 times, often bypassing traditional media and other methods of mass communication.
He has used his platforms to whip up his base and to mislead voters.
A Washington Post analysis that tracked Trump's misleading statements during his first 100 days in office found he had made 492 false claims during that period. Some 99 were issued via Twitter. Another 7 were on Facebook.
And a paper published in March 2018 by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz of the University of Warwick found that anti-Muslim tweets by Trump correlated with anti-Muslim hate crimes.
After almost four years of this behavior, Twitter and Facebook have taken the mildest possible action.
On May 26, Twitter added a fact-check tag to two Trump tweets that falsely claimed that mail-in ballots cast in California would be "substantially fraudulent" and result in a "Rigged Election."
Twitter did not delete either tweet, but simply appended each post with a link and the caption: "Get the facts about mail-in ballots."
Two days later, it hid a Trump tweet that appeared to threaten the George Floyd protesters in Minneapolis, stating that the post broke its rules around glorifying violence. Again, it did not delete the tweet.
Since then it has removed a video posted by Trump over claims of a copyright breach.
On Thursday it also tagged a video posted by the president that was doctored to seem like it came from CNN with a "manipulated media" tag.
Facebook has largely left the president's posts on Facebook and Instagram alone, citing a policy of not fact-checking political speech.
On Thursday, the company changed tack slightly and removed a Trump campaign ad that featured an inverted red triangle, a symbol once used by the Nazis to tag suspected Communists and other political opponents.
Facebook said the ad violated its policies on hate speech.
Separately, Snapchat announced that it would stop promoting Trump's account in its Discover feed, saying the president's posts on Black Lives Matter incited racial violence.
These moves are a first step towards reining in political discourse ahead of the 2020 election. They have already prompted repercussions.
The Trump administration is currently threatening to roll back the protections currently in place for internet firms which have broadly granted them immunity from taking legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms.
Trump's executive order on
It is nonetheless amazing it has taken this long for the big tech firms to act, and then in so small a fashion.
Twitter's position has evolved over the years, but the company has conventionally thought of itself as "the free speech wing of the free speech party" and clung to that belief even as its platform became rife with abuse and trolling.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has only just begun to publicly denounce remarks made by Trump, stating in a letter that he was "deeply shaken and disgusted by Trump's incendiary rhetoric."
Those who want Twitter and Facebook to act faster and more robustly do have one card left — pressuring advertisers to pull their spending.
This week, civil rights groups called for an advertiser boycott on Facebook, saying the platform amplifies white supremacists and misinformation.
Since both Facebook and Twitter predominantly make their money through ads, it's possible that pressure on their wallets may force them into faster action where moral pressure did not.
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