Why Twitter Can’t Afford to Ease Up in Fake-News Fight

Why Twitter Can’t Afford Ease Up
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

Twitter may not be the biggest Silicon Valley-based social media company, but it’s still struggled just as much as the big fish in keeping a lid on misinformation. 

For example, the German Marshall Fund of the United States earlier this year found that shares of content from deceptive sites by verified Twitter accounts reached an all-time high in Q4 2020. That same study, which was based on an analysis of NewsWhip data, found interaction with deceptive sites on Facebook leading up to the 2020 election was more than twice that leading up to the 2016 election. 

So it’s no coincidence that Twitter has been recently stepping up its efforts to combat the spread of fake news on its platform. Last week, the social company announced it was testing a feature that would let certain users in the U.S., Australia and South Korea report misinformation.  

That came after Twitter in early August announced a partnership with AP and Reuters aimed at elevating credible information on the platform. The social company also announced Birdwatch in January, which lets users identify information in tweets they believe is incorrect, though those notes currently don’t live on Twitter. 

Twitter has also recently made high-profile suspensions of individuals, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) over vaccine misinformation and former President Trump, a serial offender of Twitter’s fake news guidelines.  

Fake news has always been a problem for Twitter (VIP+ covered the platform’s struggle with fake news in April 2020). But it makes sense for the company to get even more buttoned up about the issue in 2021 for two key reasons.  

The first, and the most serious, is the threat of lawmakers.  

Joe Biden is now president instead of Donald Trump, which suggests there is currently more of a White House focus on how social giants spread misinformation, rather than things like how those companies supposedly suppress conservative voices.  

After all, the New York Times earlier in August reported there is now a rift between Facebook and the White House over the platform’s spread of vaccine misinformation.  

So the climate seems right for moves to be made like what Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) did in late July when they introduced a bill that would weaken Section 230 protections for social media companies like Twitter that promote health misinformation and conspiracies.  

And incidents similar to the doctored CNN photo on Twitter that purported “a mostly peaceful transition of power” had occurred as the Taliban took over Afghanistan could galvanize more senators to fight to weaken Section 230 protections.  

If more attempts to weaken Section 230 are staged, Twitter faces less liability by having a platform that more proactively elevates credible news sources and suppresses inaccurate claims. 

The second reason Twitter needs to get more serious about its fake-news fight is that the company is now particularly interested in attracting journalists to use its platform.  

Twitter has always been a go-to platform for many journos, but the company has more of an incentive to be more heavily used by the group in 2021 compared with previous years. 

Remember that Twitter acquired newsletter service and Substack competitor Revue in January, and it’s currently possible to subscribe to Revue newsletters from certain Twitter profiles.  

Revue certainly isn’t for journalists only, but Twitter is hoping to get that group to use the product. Twitter currently also has a job listing for a position that’s geared toward getting more independent and freelance journalists to use Twitter’s products (like newsletters) as fleeing big publishers becomes more in vogue among journalists with big followings. 

Getting these journalists fleeing big pubs to use Twitter products could be easier if Twitter had a more trustworthy news environment. Some Twitter users may start consuming more news on the platform if they are less fearful of tweets or news links being untrustworthy, and this heightened news engagement would be attractive to journalists. 

Having journalists more heavily use Twitter also fits into the company’s bigger overall goals. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey named news as one of the company’s three core jobs on which it’s focused during Twitter’s Q2 2021 earnings.