In a response that was largely expected, US President Donald Trump has today called for increased regulation of social media platforms amid accusations of bias against Republican politicians.
Trump took to Twitter to voice his concerns, after Twitter yesterday added fact-check markers to two of his tweets regarding mail-in ballots.
Donald J. Trump ✔@realDonaldTrump · 17h Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that....
....happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!
Furthering this, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany also said that President Trump willsign an executive order"regarding social media companies". No further detail was provided, but the assumption, based on Trump's earlier tweeted comments, is that the Trump administration will call for an investigation into alleged bias, then seek to implement penalties or restrictions as a result.
Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!
What, exactly, this means is unclear. If there is an investigation, it will likely find that Twitter is indeed operating within its rights as a private company, and that it's able to define its platform rules as it pleases. It's not a public utility, and it's under no obligation to provide equal share of voice to anyone. An investigation would also likely find that, if anything, Twitter has been relatively lenient on Trump's past statements, allowing various comments that would see regular users face action go unenforced.
In this sense, Twitter's in the right - yet even so, its decision to essentially label Trump's tweets as misleading has pushed it into difficult territory, particularly with respect to the millions of Trump supporters, who will likely now add Twitter to their list of 'fake news' media opponents.
Indeed, Trump's supporters have already launched smear campaigns against Twitter staffers, including its Head of Site Integrity Yoel Roth, who some appear to hold responsible for the notification on Trump's tweets.
The difficult consideration for Twitter is the impact on usage. If, for example, Trump were to turn his back on the platform in protest, and move someplace else, taking his many supporters with him, that could have a significant impact on Twitter usage. Trump hasn't said that he's considering this, but it's one of the potential outcomes Twitter could see as a result of this new face-off. And while holding the line on platform rues is more fundamentally important, it's still a consideration - Twitter's still working to build its audience in line with market expectations, with CEO Jack Dorsey, specifically, under pressure to maximize the company's presence.
But then again, maybe now is the time for Twitter to take a stand. The COVID-19 pandemic has already blurred performance results for 2020, and with the Presidential Election race set to heat up, you can expect that there's going to be even more controversy around Trump's use of tweets in future, and Twitter's response (or not) as a result.
If it could take a usage hit, then now is the time, and by taking a stand now, Twitter could also position itself to better enforce its rules on all political tweets moving forward. Twitter, it's worth noting, also banned all political ads on its platform to avoid the possibility of tweets being used by campaigns to spread misinformation.
In some respects, adding the fact check markers to Trump's tweets simply aligns with Twitter's approach on protecting election integrity. But because its the US President, because it's President Trump specifically, it's far more than that.
Now, we wait and see what Trump's executive order on social media might be, and whether, indeed, it could lead to independent companies being shut down, as Trump notes.
That seems unlikely, but the next steps could be crucial in dictating how social platforms are used within the upcoming election campaign, and all political communications moving forward.