Facebook and Twitter’s Inconsistencies Are Turning the 2020 Election Into a New Nightmare
After botching an October Surprise, can these platforms act coherently in November?
On Wednesday, Facebook and Twitter faced their first major test of the 2020 election. The New York Post published a story with illicitly obtained emails from Hunter Biden’s hard drive, obtained in the most sketchy of methods: Rudy Giuliani shared the material after a computer repairman gave it to his lawyer. Steve Bannon had tipped off the Post to its existence.
The story made questionable claims about Biden and his father based on improperly obtained documents, and the platforms took action. Facebook almost immediately decreased its distribution. Twitter blocked the link. And then conservatives went ballistic.
“The most powerful monopolies in American history tried to hijack American democracy by censoring the news & controlling the expression of Americans,” said Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, distilling the wave of criticism into a tweet.
Rather than a grand conspiracy against Republicans however, what’s happening inside these companies is simpler: They’re desperately trying to avoid being caught up in the type of post-election controversies they were in 2016, and are making it up as they go. With no consistent content moderation strategy, they’re struggling to explain their decisions, opening themselves up to the type of criticism we’re seeing this week, and previewing what could be a disastrous Election Day, where a disputed result seems inevitable.
Fake news, hacked documents, and foreign disinformation dominated the post-2016 election discussion. These issues blew up, in part, as liberals and media types sought to explain Hillary Clinton’s loss. But for Facebook and Twitter, they were an undeniable problem. If you control a social platform, you don’t want disinformation spreading like wildfire, especially the election-related variety. Being a vector for it lands you in trouble with regulators, politicians, and the public, and then you spend your time explaining yourself instead of building new products. When you look up, TikTok is taking your users.