“I can write anything on Facebook and it’s taken down, fact-checked,” Kim Ashworth, a Trump supporter who I met at a “Stop the Steal” event protesting the result of the election in Atlanta two weeks ago, told me. “Anything about the election, about Donald Trump, they take down.”
Kari Tingley, who was also at the protest in Atlanta, told me Twitter put a restriction on her account after she shared a post claiming masks were not effective in combating the spread of Covid-19. That claim is false, but she believes it.
Twitter most likely took action against her account because it has rules against dangerous Covid-19 misinformation.
But while many Trump supporters I have spoken to have dabbled in alternative social media platforms, almost none of them had totally ditched services like Facebook and Twitter.
But the notion that people are trying out other platforms because they believe their conversations are being stifled on Facebook and Twitter might help explain Big Tech’s historical reluctance to crack down on misinformation.
Facebook and Twitter were slow to combat misinformation on their platforms, and really only did so only after public outcry following the 2016 election. Executives from Facebook and Twitter were dragged in front of Congress to answer for how their platforms were used by people here and in Russia to foment division and spread lies. A covert Russian troll group ran fake social media pages seen by millions of Americans and it all seemingly went undetected by the tech giants
In advance of the 2020 election, both companies created new policies, tweaked some algorithms, and added some new features like ways the companies can flag misinformation to users.
But that creates its own set of challenges and chafes against users who believe or who are being told by the President and other prominent conservatives to believe misinformation.
Now, every fact-check on Facebook and every label on Twitter sets a new standard that these companies will be judged against.
At a recent Senate hearing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was asked why Twitter had flagged some Trump tweets as misinformation, but not a tweet from Iran’s supreme leader that defended Holocaust denialism.
It is a logical and fair question. And it signifies why these companies so desperately do not want to become, in Mark Zuckerberg’s words, the “arbiters of truth.” They view it as a slippery slope.
But Parler, and the people who join it, might find themselves on a slippery slope, too.
Accounts with swastikas as their profile pictures and disgusting racist posts are not hard to come by on Parler.