Generally speaking, Twitter is a soul-sucking, hellscape that’s immeasurably inimical to public discourse – a digital black hole that tempts otherwise sane people to do silly things, like engage with bots and follow accounts run by outlets and individuals known for the dissemination of misinformation and propaganda. Simply watching other people argue on Twitter has become something of a national pastime, like rubbernecking the aftermath of a car accident on the highway.
I try my best to avoid it, and I’m often tempted to delete my Twitter account altogether. The only thing that stays my hand is the fact that there’s no wire service on the planet capable of delivering news as quickly as Twitter and even if there was, that wire service would have their own Twitter account.
Twitter’s role in destroying civility and undermining Americans’ sense of community by facilitating the indiscriminate spewing of vile slander can’t be overstated. Real discussion is made impossible by design. The expanded character limit just added insult to injury – real debate is still impossible, but the space for implicit shrieking, unnecessary punctuation, fire emojis, and cartoon middle fingers was doubled overnight. The latter even come in different skin tones now, which means you can celebrate diversity while flipping someone you will never meet the bird.
Twitter is a veritable godsend for anyone (individuals or entities) looking to spread misinformation. That’s one reason Donald Trump is so fond of his account. The President claims he needs to tweet so he can “get the word out”, which is true, precisely because the “word” is false.
The media (ex-Fox) refuses to uncritically parrot “the word”, where that means real networks and credible journalists will not simply run the unadulterated rantings of the President or the spell-checked, edited-for-clarity version of those rantings as disseminated by Sarah Sanders, without including allusions to actual facts which invariably run counter to the message from the White House.
But it’s not enough for Trump that Twitter lets him effectively poll the audience on critical policy decisions. It’s not enough that he can solicit uninformed opinions on delicate matters of war and peace from millions of uneducated followers and, in some cases, bots who Trump doesn’t recognize as bots. It’s not enough that a sitting US president – who already enjoys a bully pulpit like no other – is allowed to implicitly incite violence against a sitting US congresswoman solely on the basis of her religion.
No, none of that is enough. Trump wants more, and it isn’t even clear what “more” means. For the umpteenth time in the past two years, Trump accused Twitter on Tuesday of discriminating against him and of making it difficult for people to follow him.
“The best thing ever to happen to Twitter is Donald Trump”, said Trump, referring to himself in the third person, by way of something he heard from Maria Bartiromo, who, like most Fox anchors, is speaking every day to an audience of one. Trump is notoriously oblivious to the fact that Fox has deliberately trapped him in a reality distortion loop, for the purposes of profit, ratings and, only tangentially I would argue, pushing a political agenda. In some ways, he is the victim of Fox News as much as he is a co-conspirator.
“They don’t treat me well as a Republican”, Trump went on to whine on Tuesday, before claiming, without evidence, that Twitter is “very discriminatory” and that it’s “hard for people to sign on.”
Twitter, Trump claims, is “constantly taking people off list.” It wasn’t clear what he meant.
Nor was it clear who the “many people” are who Trump says are lodging “big complaints”. One assumes he’s (again) talking up social media bias against conservatives. It never seems to occur to people who buy into that narrative that one reason why algorithms and human gatekeepers appear to be “biased” against right-wing outlets is that those portals are more prone to disseminating manifestly false information. Some of the most pernicious, ubiquitous (not to mention absurd) conspiracy theories to hit the scene over the past two years came courtesy of right-wing propaganda portals, with Pizzagate and the despicable effort to suggest that Sandy Hook was a hoax being perhaps the two most prominent examples.
Trump continued on Tuesday, tweeting the following non-sentence:
Different names-over 100 M…. …..But should be much higher than that if Twitter wasn’t playing their political games
He then threatened Twitter with government intervention.
No wonder Congress wants to get involved – and they should. Must be more, and fairer, companies to get out the WORD!
But, again, the “WORD!” that Trump is pushing is often misleading at best and manifestly untrue at worst.
The president traffics in falsehoods, bombast and conspiracy theories pushed, in some cases, by the same purveyors of paranoid delusions that brought the world a ridiculous story about Hillary Clinton running a Satanic child smuggling ring out of the basement of a pizza shop (the pizza shop, it turns out, doesn’t even have a basement, and the very fact that someone had to point that out speaks to just how far afield we are as a society – when a rumor that crazy has to be refuted by structural blueprints, you know Americans are pretty far gone).
Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are trying to clean things up, but when the President of the United States is essentially arguing that those efforts are tantamount to bias, it not only makes things harder for tech companies to fight misinformation, it also adds another conspiracy theory to the mix – namely that Twitter, a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, is itself involved in a conspiracy.
On Tuesday morning, a few hours after Trump capped off a tweet binge that started a 5:59 AM by posting “KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”, NBC reported that according to data gathered by a prominent disinformation researcher (and subsequently analyzed by the network), a ring “of more than 5,000 pro-Trump Twitter bots railed against the ‘Russiagate hoax’ shortly after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report last week.”
It is quite possible – indeed, it seems likely – that many of Trump’s supporters who thought they were reading tweets from like-minded individuals following the release of Mueller’s redacted report, were in fact reading messages from bots created by “a private social media consultant”.
“Almost all of the since-removed accounts, most of which only posted about 30 times each, attacked the press and lamented how the ‘Russiagate hoax’ affected Trump’s presidency”, NBC writes. All of the accounts were yanked by Twitter on Sunday night.
One of the accounts (@TheGlobus), posed as a news outlet, but was in fact simply a re-brand of a previous account called @ArabianVeritas, a handle which, before getting into the “Russiagate hoax” business, “mostly posted positive news, policy initiatives and memes about Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
NBC generously says “it is unclear whether the accounts had any official connections to the government of Saudi Arabia.”
With all due respect to NBC’s nod to decorum, no, it is not “unclear”. It’s not unclear at all.