Some brands never recover from actions taken by their leadership, at least within one’s lifetime. When Twitter chose to allow Trump to destroy the truth and attack others in the name of the “public interest,” it forever tarnished its brand.
For years, Trump has used his Twitter bully pulpit as the lead vehicle for spreading propaganda, misleading the public with his spin on real-life situations and in many cases, violating the social network’s own terms of service on hate speech and violence. This propaganda continued through yesterday with Trump’s horrific video response to yesterday’s fascist mob attack on the National Capitol Building during the electoral vote verification.
Now, as we navigate the final days of the Trump presidency, the online world wonders whether closure will see Twitter finally suspend “Trump the Citizen.” Such a move would have traumatic consequences for Twitter, but for many, it would be too late. The damage has been done.
Trump Exposed Twitter’s Hypocrisy
Forged during the Arab Spring and unlike Facebook, Twitter had long enjoyed an egalitarian brand by giving everyone a voice to fight institutional powers and their stranglehold on media outlets. That is, until Trump came along.
Let’s circle back to 2016 when. Twitter growth was flatlining and its stock price had hit new lows. The network was under fire for fake accounts and poor advertising performance. Rumors circled about possible acquisitions by larger tech brands.
The zeitgeist Trump energized the network, and though many users complained that his tweets consistently violated the platform’s Terms of Service, CEO Jack Dorsey hedged his bets and allowed them to continue. One can only wonder if the boost in traffic was simply too good to pass up during such a difficult financial period.
Still, Twitter’s bargain with the devil was made. Hypocrisy reigned and while the Average Joes’ violations of guidelines might foreshadow suspension or even worse, removal, Trump was the Trojan Horse, riding above the Platform’s ethers directly into the White House.
When confronted about the 2016 election outcome, Jack Dorsey labeled President Trump’s election an ‘American problem’, not Twitter’s. “Having the president-elect on our service using it as a direct line of communication allows everyone to see what is on his mind in the moment,” Dorsey said.
For three more years, Jack Dorsey permitted the autocrat Trump to continue, unfettered. In turn, Twitter’s traffic grew as Trump’s mercurial tweeting began to shape the American and sometimes the global news cycle.
Hypocrisy to Fight Hypocrisy
Anyone who understands misinformation and propaganda knows that Twitter empowered Trump, allowing him to use its network to control and influence tens of millions of Americans. Yet, as American democracy became increasingly challenged, Dorsey would acknowledge Twitter’s misinformation problem and in a very Trumpian way, reverse course.
The result has been a disaster.
As Twitter started to police, hide, and label Trump’s tweets, its egalitarian brand was called to the mat, and this second hypocrisy, flaunted by “conservatives” as censorship. Their claims were not entirely unfounded. Data show that tweets by the right are labeled more frequently than those of their liberal counterparts (however, I argue that they disseminate an overwhelming proportion of fraud conspiracies, pandemic misinformation, and other falsities dominating Twitter feeds).
Can the Platform Save Itself?
Twitter has a cancer of its own making. By allowing Trump and his conservative minions to dominate and violate its platform over the past four years, it has lost control of its ability to rein them in. One must ask: where do we go from here?
Undoubtedly, any efforts to clean up the mess left behind in their wake may cause significant and perhaps permanent damage:
- Acting definitively against Trump and his sycophants will likely cost the social network a significant portion of their user base and traffic.
- Regulation by the U.S. government is certainly coming, as both sides of the aisle are angered by social network’s actions.
2021 will likely be the redefining moment for the platform. But History will always remember it as the social network that enabled Trump’s many poor actions, including attempting to overthrow the 2020 election.
Tarnished by years of its own hypocrisy, Twitter will always let Trump be Trump. And while it may ultimately find its way through the chaos, the Nation and the world suffered for it.
Both photos taken by me.