Twitter and Donald Trump are at war. The American president is a constant target of the blue bird’s “filter”, which started to label Trump’s dubious publications as “manipulated media”, “glorification of violence” and, in some situations, even removed tweets from the platform.
The conflicts between Trump and Twitter
There is no doubt that the Trump administration will be marked by statements on Twitter. Since taking office in 2016, the leader of the United States has used the social network to communicate with supporters, attack opponents and even announce measures that affect other countries, as he did when declaring that he would resume tariffs on aluminum and steel Brazil and Argentina in December last year.
Even though he uses Twitter assiduously, Trump shows that he no longer appreciates this means of communication. It is not new that Twitter interferes and displays stamps in American publications. However, in recent months, labels have been constantly appearing on Donald Trump’s account and always on issues that are on the agenda in society.
The clash intensified in May 2020, when the Republican criticized the elections for ballots via mail. “Mailboxes will be stolen, banknotes will be forged and even printed illegally,” wrote Trump.
Shortly thereafter, the social network added – for the first time – a stamp to the tweet with the message: “Know the facts about the ballots by mail” and a hyperlink that leads to a page with content from the press, which belie the statement his.
In response, Trump signed an executive order (somewhat similar to a decree in Brazil), amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, limiting protections to technology giants such as Google, Facebook and, of course, Twitter. Section 230 supports these companies, leaving them immune from legal liability for their users’ publications.
Trump, however, is not the only one to receive the seal for spreading untrue information. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro even had two publications excluded from Twitter for violating the rules of the platform. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was also alerted by the social network, as was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.
Twitter’s warnings, especially in Donald Trump’s tweets, sparked a complex discussion: can Twitter intervene in its users’ posts in any situation? Can the company pave the way for social media censorship?
How is freedom of expression on social networks
Experts heard by Tecnoblog assess that social media can abuse and hurt freedom of expression at times. To avoid this, it is essential to have clear rules, so that users can be aware of what could be banned. Still, there are different opinions on the topic.
“The same technology that allows maximum exercise of freedom of expression, can also be used to manipulate and censor”, warns Patricia Peck, a lawyer specializing in digital law, who defends the neutrality of networks.
She says that we are in a challenging time and that there are abuses on all sides. For Peck, a healthy balance is needed at this point.
“If there are no clearer rules, to specifically address this new context, we run the risk that there is a predominance of the strongest, the one who holds the power of information and that is with digital platforms. There must be criteria to allow the citizen himself to exercise his free choice, his free opinion, and above all, to assume responsibility for his actions ”, he declares.
Cláudia Silva, who is a researcher and university professor of Digital Media and Human-Machine Interaction in Lisbon (Portugal), sees Twitter’s position as “positive and exemplary”, especially for the current period: elections 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic.
For Silva, it is necessary to broaden the debate and consider that we are talking about technology companies (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, Google).
“They are technological companies. The problem lies in this designation. They are not publishing companies or content producers. This means that legally these technology companies are not responsible for the content that their users produce and publish on their platforms ”.
About hurting freedom of expression, she believes it depends on two factors: the context and how the publication was made. “[No caso de Trump na polêmica do voto por correio], what Twitter did was to flag / label / tag the information that the President of the USA published ”.
“Remember, this is not the first time that Trump and Twitter have been involved in a debate about censorship. In July 2019, a federal judge banned Trump from blocking Twitter followers because he considered unconstitutional a head of state to bar his critics on online forums, preventing them from interacting with you. Trump’s attitude was considered censorship by the judge, ”recalls Silva.
This still reminds us that, unlike other countries, freedom of expression in the United States is more “broad”, shielding even offensive messages from government punishments. It is in the First Amendment of the Constitution: the State cannot limit freedom of expression.
“In the North American system, freedom of expression does not normally apply to the private sector,” recalls Christian Perrone, senior researcher in the area of Law and Technology at the Institute of Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro (ITS). “The government cannot restrict freedom of expression and must watch over it, but the private sector can benefit from that freedom, but in theory it can restrict some speeches”.
“For example, a school does not need to allow violent video games to enter classrooms. Violent video games are legal, and protected by free speech, but the school can restrict their circulation without violating free speech. As for the State to prevent it, then it needs a legitimate justification ”, explains Perrone.
What Twitter says
In an interview with Tecnoblog, Fernando Gallo, public policy manager at Twitter Brasil, clarifies that the social network “does not remove or add notices to tweets based on their veracity, since the company does not infer or classify what is true or false”.
The publications are removed based on different rules, such as abusive content, hateful conduct, violent threats or information that could cause people to suffer damage or loss in the real world (offline), he explains.
Regarding the labels, Fernando stresses that the objective of Twitter is to give context to publications with “synthetic or manipulated media” or when they present dubious information. “Our intention is to increase people’s access to information on the topics in question in tweets.”
And he adds: “With this, we want to make it easier to access facts and contribute to informed decision-making about what is seen on the platform. By introducing context, we give people the opportunity to access different sources of information so that they can make their own interpretation and judgment ”.
Understand Twitter labels
Twitter adds a warning on content that violates the rules of the social network, but there is no removal of the tweet because the platform understands how to be of “public interest”. This type of alert, however, only appears on profiles of:
- government officials and representatives;
- politicians and candidates for public office;
- people who will be able to assume a government position (successor, for example).
In addition, Twitter considers that the account must have more than 100 thousand followers and must have the verified seal.
Example: it can appear in profiles of presidents, ministers of state, deputies, senators, governors, mayors.
Synthetic or manipulated media
The “manipulated media” seal, or with another similar alert, can be added to any Twitter account. This is a recent measure, which came into force on March 5, 2020 and may appear in manipulated content, be it video, audio or images.
From this, the social network can give context to what was shared, providing a hyperlink to Moment, where it will be possible to have clarifications on the topic addressed.
Example: Donald Trump has already shared a manipulated video on Twitter; the social network displayed the warning.
Facebook in the middle of it all
Facebook, which is also the controller of Instagram and WhatsApp, is more withdrawn in the middle of this debate. Even though both networks have similar policies for content that exalts violence (Facebook | Twitter), Mark Zuckerberg’s company is opposed to interference and display of labels.
After the controversy of the elections by mail on Twitter, Zuckerberg gave an interview to the channel Fox News, where he said that digital platforms should not act as an “arbiter of the truth”.
“Unlike Twitter, we don’t have a policy of placing a notice on publications because we believe that if a publication incites violence, it should be removed independently,” wrote Zuckerberg in his official account. The Facebook CEO also points out that his company is “committed to freedom of expression”.
In the text, he still refers to a controversial publication by Donald Trump at the height of the demonstrations against the death of George Floyd. “When the looting begins, the shooting will begin,” wrote the president on both social networks, threatening the protesters.
Twitter decided to “hide” Trump’s publication because it considered it to highlight violence; the company did not remove the post because it believed it was in the “public interest”. Facebook, for its part, did not intervene.
“We will continue to point out incorrect information. Our intention is to connect the points of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so that people can judge for themselves, ”said Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter.
THE Tecnoblog found that Facebook’s position in Brazil is in line with what Mark Zuckerberg defends, that is, the technology company is not the arbiter of the truth and, for now, the company does not think about interfering in user content with stamps.
About fake news, Facebook does not currently exclude fake news that circulates on its platform. However, it limits the scope of these publications. Facebook’s weak policy has already caused the company to lose 100 advertisers in the United States.
For Arthur Igreja, professor at FGV and specialist in Innovation and Technology, Twitter is positioning itself in a firmer direction, while Facebook is exempt as a form of strategy. “Zuckerberg reinforces that he has no responsibility for the content posted or any damage to democracy. It is a strategy to be as big as possible and for no one to go head to head ”, critic.
Labels may be welcome at Elections 2020
Twitter labels show how prepared the platform is to be prepared for the 2020 elections, analyzes lawyer Sandro Caldeira. “The great focus [do Twitter] it is the American elections, scheduled for November, in an attempt to prevent such publications from generating mass manipulation by voters. Here in Brazil too”.
However, the label alone is not enough to combat fake news broadcasters. “Perhaps a good way to deal with the issue is to discourage the‘ disinformation industry ’, the structures behind which organize and finance disinformation campaigns,” analyzes Christian Perrone.
“In this sense, for the elections, it would be good to count beyond the action of the platforms, also as something very punctual and specific that would remain in the regulation and control of financing and organization of structured campaigns in order to generate misinformation”, he says.
Perrone ponders that manipulating information can do serious damage to the democratic system. He recalls, for example, the Cambridge Analytical scandal.
“The case of Cambridge Analytic showed how the coordinated and structured use of information manipulation and misinformation in itself can cause a lot of damage, one of the most important being the disincentive to participate in elections – called suppression of votes”.
Facebook and Twitter adopt similar policies to combat disinformation. Both work to promote media education, and have a partnership with fact-checking agencies.
The fake news boom during the pandemic
False news about the coronavirus pandemic keeps circulating on social media and the numbers clearly show that. Researchers from the National School of Public Health, from Fiocruz (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz), analyzed the fake news that circulated the most on social media in the months of March, April and May, reported in the Eu Fiscalizo application.
The study was divided into two phases and reveals a significant increase in distorted information during the pandemic. In the first stage, between March 17 and April 10, the researchers analyzed that, among the publications received through the app, 4.3% of the contents indicated that the new coronavirus is part of a political strategy.
Then, that number rose surprisingly to 24.6% in the second phase, between April 11 and May 13.
Topics such as homemade methods to prevent contamination, procedures to cure the disease (COVID-19), untrue information about social distance and even “news” that associate the pandemic with banking scams were also presented in the study.
Another survey by the The Facts between February 20 and April 8 he revealed that federal deputy Osmar Terra (MDB-RS) was the parliamentarian who most shared false news about the pandemic on Twitter. Behind him are other names linked to the extreme right: Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP), Bia Kicks (PSL-DF) and Marco Feliciano (Republicanos-RJ).
Remember that Twitter has already posted an alert in a post by Osmar Terra. In terms of content, the deputy doubts the effectiveness of social isolation: “I insist that quarantine increases cases of coronavirus,” he declared. Shortly thereafter, Twitter added a warning to the publication and kept it on the air for classifying it as of public interest.
As the The Facts, opposition lawmakers also spread untrue information on Twitter. They are: Margarida Salomão (PT-MG), Paulo Pimenta (PT-RS) and Bohn Gass (PT-RS). The complete list is available for viewing by everyone (Google Spreadsheets).
The fight against disinformation has become a bottleneck in the contemporary world. Media researchers have long warned that technology companies (social networks) need to take a more active role in cracking down on fake news creators, says Cláudia Silva.
“We must continue to critically observe how these technology companies conduct these information verification measures. It is important to note that these companies are not exactly innocent. On the contrary, they have colonized the global information space ”, concludes Silva.