Yesterday, Twitch’s two-week ban on Donald Trump ended. With the president’s account back online, Jeff Bezos’ team would like everyone to think that Trump is on notice until Election Day. They forced Team Trump to take down a 2016 clip of their guy accusing Mexican immigrants of drug dealing en masse, which got Trump the suspension in the first place. Now they have to watch their back if they don’t want to receive a permanent ban.
Apparently though, Twitch still considers Trump using the term ‘Kung-Flu’ to describe COVID-19 within bounds. With this clip - and the countless other racist easter eggs anyone can find by clicking through his rambling streams - remaining up on the platform, the initial ban seems kind of arbitrary.
Twitch, like every other big tech firm, is now dealing more directly with the ever-recurring question: How does a company placate its users and advertisers by limiting Trump’s more hateful and obfuscating missives, while remaining impartial enough not to risk government retaliation? The question went largely unsolved in the 2016 election, setting us up to run into all the same problems this time around.
After all, Trump threatened in 2016 to take action against Bezos and his holdings.
It’s not the biggest problem facing Twitch, where Trump only has 130,000 followers, but is a far more substantial question on platforms where the president has a larger presence. The big tech firms are all having some version of The Trump Talk right now, as they go through the slow and painful process of figuring out a wider strategy. With November 3rd approaching, one would hope they get it together soon.
Twitter’s Little Labels
- Trump Twitter follower count in 2020: 83.4 million (7th most-followed account)
- Trump follower count 2016: 6.7 million
On May 26, Twitter hit Trump with a series of fact-check warnings on tweets that made the unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots are vulnerable to fraud. After grumbling about this for days, Trump followed up with a May 29 threat against protestors: looting in the wake of George Floyd’s death would be met with deadly force. Twitter responded to this with a content warning. Users had to click through a message to see Trump’s tweet.
....These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
This labeling drove Trump up the wall. In 2016, when he was just a candidate with less than 7 million followers, he was able to get away with far worse without risking censorship. “Presidential Harassment!” he declared, bemoaning how his treatment has changed.
Trump made Twitter the target of an executive order just a few days later. Ever since, the Trump administration continues to search for legal means to go after Twitter and other tech companies for violating the president’s free speech. As the election draws closer, expect conservatives to stress this issue all the more.
This time around, neither side will be able to buy ads as they did in 2016. Twitter disallowed them on the site in October last year.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and his advisors have very publicly wrung their hands about Trump’s conduct on their site, but have ultimately decided that it is in the public interest to leave his tweets up, with warnings attached.
Facebook Wants You To Vote
- Trump Likes: 28.3 million
- Trump Facebook ad buys in 2016 election: 5.9 million
- Hillary Clinton ad buys in 2016: about 60,000
‘If the president says it, it isn’t hate speech,’ was Mark Zuckerberg’s original position regarding Trump’s conduct. However, advertiser backlash from vital companies like Unilever and Verizon, and a resultant drop in valuation, has led Zuckerberg to reconsider. The Facebook CEO has now moved closer to Twitter’s stance. Facebook will use content labelling with Trump, but allow inflammatory posts from politicians to remain up due to their inherently “newsworthy” nature.
Still, Facebook is far more of an open territory when it comes to political content. It seems that even after the 2018 Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, most users are still comfortable enough with Facebook freely exchanging information and cash with political operatives.
Zuckerberg said in the aftermath of the scandal he was working to “understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Did we ever get a good answer on that end? Is Zuckerberg still having off-the-record dinners with high-profile conservatives like Tucker Carlson and Lindsey Graham, or did those stop?
Though Zuckerberg has vowed to push back against the spread of fake news, FB remains just as much a confusing political battleground as it ever was. In early June, Facebook was slow to act on the issue of a Trump ad that used a Nazi-associated symbol to promote the president’s re-election campaign, as well as spread fear about radical antifascist movements in America. The ad in question was allowed to run for two weeks, and was taken down only after Media Matters and several other organizations denounced Facebook for its carelessness.
More recently, Zuckerberg has sought to rebuild credibility by rolling out Facebook’s “Voting Information Center” with the stated goal of registering 4 million new voters before the general election in November. The VIC’s features include guidance on voter registration, info on how to request an absentee ballot, and links to help users plan to vote.
How a voter drive cancels out the ongoing, multi-year misinformation campaign is unclear, but it certainly seems inoffensive enough to not step on Trump’s toes. Hopefully, Facebook has more to offer than this.