As the United States delves deeper into its own electoral hell world, Twitter is attempting to prevent the spread of misinformation on its network by limiting its most basic features. As reported by The New York Times, the platform is making sizable changes to retweets, warning labels, and other features to keep politicians from exploiting Silicon Valley’s democratic influence.
In the lead-up to the Nov. 3 presidential election, the company announced on Friday it will make temporary alterations to the website’s general operations of its users. At an unspecified time, Twitter will enforce timeouts on the retweet feature once a tweet has been posted by an account, essentially limiting the ability for a post to gain traffic until hours after it was originally published. In addition, users who attempt to share content Twitter flagged as false will receive a notice warning they’ll be sharing inaccurate information.
Twitter has also stated it would also disable the system that suggests posts on the basis of someone’s interests and the activity of accounts they follow. In their timelines, users will see only content from the accounts they follow and ads. In addition, the platform will add labels to claims on who has won the election until the results have been called by “authoritative sources,” which conservatives and their apologists will undoubtedly question.
“Twitter has a critical role to play in protecting the integrity of the election conversation, and we encourage candidates, campaigns, news outlets and voters to use Twitter respectfully and to recognize our collective responsibility to the electorate to guarantee a safe, fair and legitimate democratic process this November,” the Twitter executives Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour said in a statement. “This will help people more quickly gain an informed understanding of the high-volume public conversation in the U.S. and also help reduce the potential for misleading information to spread.”
It’s no secret these steps are a direct reaction to the post-fact movement of Twitter’s most notorious troll, President Donald J. Trump, who has been stoking fears by stating he wouldn’t commit to a “peaceful transfer of power” whether he would “win, lose or draw” with former Vice President Joe Biden, the current Democratic rival. The reason for this, of course, is to prime his supporters towards his political narrative that the electoral system is inherently biased against his administration and all current electoral practices are just a suspect means to install Biden’s regime. The claim Biden can “only win by a rigged election” has been discredited in several ways.
“I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots,” Trump stated. “And the ballots are a disaster. Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very — you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.” Back in 2016, Trump used this same strategy against the insistence on whether he’d accept a defeat by the former Democratic candidate, Secretary Hillary Clinton. After he was eventually declared the winner, Trump continued to undermine the process which elevated him by questioning the popular vote, claiming he would have won this meaningless stat if not for the mysterious votes of three million illegal immigrants, nevermind the fact this claim was later investigated by his own White House commission which was eventually disbanded after they found no evidence of electoral fraud.
Given that numerous examples of such misinformation have sustained their life as national news years after they’ve been made, social media companies are going to considerable lengths to avoid the fallout of the 2016 election. This is even beyond the realm of Russian disinformation, which reportedly flowed unchecked on Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s subsidiary YouTube. As such, both Facebook and Google have offered recent commitments to banning political ads for an undetermined period after the polls close on Nov. 3, whereas Twitter has outright banned all political ads on its platform indefinitely.
In a shockingly rare moment of market self-regulation, these steps prove Silicon Valley is sometimes willing to undermine its own success for the sake of a healthy information economy. As stated by Politico’s Nancy Scola: “Policy changes and even enforcement actions aren’t enough to clean up the service, but need to be paired with design changes to the platform can help nudge users to behave in the way that Twitter would prefer, encouraging users to ‘help keep Twitter a place for reliable info,’ [causing] many users to think twice.” From this, it’s expected this new approach will be tested in a matter of days, especially the next time it labels one of Trump’s tweets as containing fraudulent information about COVID-19.
If you’re a principled free-market capitalist, allowing these companies to act as the market seems fit, this would seem like good news. If you’re a member of the Trump campaign, however, this only spells doom for the president’s online electoral strategy, labeling these free-market changes as being “extremely dangerous” for democracy. “After months of Big Tech censorship against President Trump, the unelected liberal coastal elites of Silicon Valley are once again attempting to influence this election in favor of their preferred ticket by silencing the President and his supporters,” Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said in a statement to the Times, despite Silicon Valley actively reducing their influence on the race. In turn, the Biden campaign declined to comment.