Twitter’s flawed notion of news and public interest could kill us all [Opinion]

twitter stock donald trump

In September this year, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho claimed that the US had declared war on the country because of something US President Donald Trump had tweeted.

“If [Ri] echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” Trump wrote.

Twitter users were outraged, declaring the tweet in clear violation of the platform’s rule against threatening violence. North Korea interpreted it in the same way.

Twitter’s response? That the tweet was newsworthy and in the public interest, and therefore deserved to stay up.

Now, two months later, Twitter is doubling down on this position by elaborating on its policies. It says that when deciding if “controversial content” is in the public interest, it looks at three main categories: public impact, the source of the content, and availability of coverage.

In essence, Twitter’s policies are built on assumptions that hold no water when considering the real-world impact of their choices — especially in relation to Donald Trump, the primary reason it created this addendum to its rules.

The first sign that the company is not taking its product seriously is the fact that it calls Trump’s content “controversial”, despite it being so dangerous it threatens life as we know it. To downplay a world leader threatening to end a nuclear nation is not only insulting, but mind-bogglingly reckless.

But the actual issues are worse than a soft vocabulary.

Twitter treats the term “public interest” — which refers to the wellbeing of the general public — as if it is a straightforward trump card as simple as the right to breathe. But what will be best for the public to know is something that plagues institutions like the government, intelligence agencies, and news publications every day.

Often these institutions will keep matters of national security quiet because it is safer for the public to remain ignorant. Twitter has shown no such nuance.

The company has proven — by allowing the tweet North Korea interpreted as a declaration of war to remain on its platform — that it believes knowledge is better for society than prohibiting a direct threat on human life. It believes that world leaders using its platform to antagonise other volatile leaders, and often their own citizens, promotes the wellbeing of the public.

There’s another damning layer to Twitter’s clumsy defense, though, and it’s that the company does not differentiate between conveying news and being news. It talks of “newsworthiness” as if Trump is tweeting links to reports on policy. He isn’t: he is using Twitter, and only Twitter, to degrade diplomatic relations and threaten nuclear war.

There is no other platform that has prompted the same manner of responses from the US President, but Twitter disregards this fact, because if it didn’t, it would come face to face with its own complicity.

Twitter supplies the gun. Dangerous people pull the trigger.

So why pretend to working for the safety and well-being of the public while allowing tweets that threaten our very existence?

One needn’t look further than Twitter’s current financial status to put the pieces together.

The company has been struggling to grow its userbase. Between the first and second quarter of 2017, Twitter gained not a single user. It grew by only two-million in the third quarter — but it’s advertising revenue dipped 8% from 2016.

There is no reason for a company looking to survive to tamper with Donald Trump’s intoxicatingly dangerous tweets. The president has 43.1-million followers. His tweets attract hundreds of thousands of likes, retweets, and replies.

When Trump tweets, the platform lights up.

If the company begins holding Trump to the same standards as regular users — if it for one second looks like it is refusing to be part of this volatile narrative — Twitter will likely be choosing its end.

The company knows this. It’s the reason it twists the idea of news and public interest. It’s the reason it keeps promising a future in which the public is protected. A future it will never enact.

Twitter either thinks it’s doing right — and is thus unaware of its complicity in the nuclear threat holding the world for ransom — or its executives have chosen profit over people — in which case they are nothing more than cowards.



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