Bullied: Why Facebook and Twitter keep bowing down to Trump

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If we ever needed more proof that the idea of the "liberal media" represents a political fantasy in this country, look no further than the myriad of ways social media giants Facebook and Twitter continue to bow down to Trump, as the two behemoths time again rewrite their rules in order to placate Trump and his angry, bullying ways.

Fearing Republican reprisals, which can mean endless and expensive federal investigations, Facebook and Twitter not only carve out special places for Trump and his lies to remain untouched, they’re helping pave the way to his re-election in 2020.

Just look at the recent headlines Twitter has made on the political front, and ask yourself why the company applies such an enormous double standard to Trump, so that he can maintain his massive platform there.

Last week, Twitter suspended 70 pro-Mike Bloomberg accounts for posting "content in a pattern that violates company rules," the Los Angeles Times reported. The suspensions seem straightforward because there was a clear violation of Twitter's terms of services (in this case, regarding spam) that all users agree to when they sign up. Users like Trump, who nonetheless violates those terms almost everyday yet faces no suspension or penalty. So why one set of rules for everyone else, including the Bloomberg campaign, and another set of rules for Trump?

It seems quite clear the answer is because Twitter is afraid of Trump and doesn't want to be the target of his nasty public attacks, or the target of a partisan government investigation. It's also clear that Trump, unlike any other American president, has openly threatened to unleash the power of the federal government on companies he thinks aren't aligned with him politically.

Let's be clear, Trump blatantly violates Twitter policy, including the company's stated guideline which forbids "targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category."

For example, during a brief window last year, Trump used Twitter to further hype the idea of civil unrest in this country, demand the arrest of Democratic leaders, and publicly target the whistleblower who came forward to detail the Ukraine collusion scandal which led to the House's impeachment inquiry. Yet Twitter takes no action against his most notorious user.

Then there was this Twitter revelation, via NBC News last week: "Twitter is experimenting with adding brightly colored labels directly beneath lies and misinformation posted by politicians and other public figures."

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Odd, right? Twitter terms of service clearly forbid the spreading of obvious misinformation. So why is Twitter experimenting with ways to simply highlight misinformation posted by politicians, instead of suspending the accounts of the offending politicians?

Rather than follow its own guidelines, suspend Trump, and take whatever political heat that would generate, Twitter is now tying itself into knots trying to figure out a way to let politicians (i.e. Trump) keep using the social media outlet to lie relentlessly, but without penalizing them.

"Misinformation is a critical issue and we will be testing many different ways to address it," a company spokesperson stressed to the Times. If that were true, Trump would've been suspended from Twitter a long time ago. And yes, private companies are well within their rights to deny service to customers who chronically fail to follow the rules of conduct. (I.e. this is not a freedom of speech issue.)

Meanwhile, the story unfolding inside Facebook continues to be troubling, both with regards to the company's unmatched media influence, and its complete capitulation to Trump and the GOP in recent years.

From the Washington Post, Feb. 20:

Trump and other party leaders have pressured Facebook by making unproven claims of bias against conservatives amid rising signs of government action on the issue, including investigations by Congress and the Justice Department. Republicans also have leveraged Facebook’s fears of alienating conservative Americans to win concessions from a company whose most widely shared news content typically includes stories from Fox News and other right-leaning sources.

Facebook has given the Trump campaign a green light to lie nonstop with its online re-election ads and face no consequence. And Facebook in several cases has specifically refused to take down false content because executives at the company feared the move would anger Republicans.

The backstory of the company's complete capitulation: In 2016, a dubious press report suggested that Facebook editors were "suppressing conservative news," which set off right-wing hysteria, both in the conservative press and on Capital Hill. In a frantic response to placate the mob, Facebook eliminated human editors, or "news curators," from the news selection process and replaced them with an algorithm. That move then unleashed a tidal wave of fake news stories on Facebook, which helped Trump get elected.

Punch line: In order to further appease Republicans, Facebook then hired a conservative Republican to determine whether the company was guilty of an internal liberal bias. Surprise! He concluded the company was guilty, but provided only anecdotal evidence to support the claim.

Sadly, we're learning that media timidity during the Trump era extends to social media, as well.

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GOOD STUFF:

The Washington Post’s deep dive into Facebook's rightward tilt, which I quoted from above, really should be read in full. It paints a distressing portrait of a scared company that routinely caves to GOP scare tactics: "How Conservatives Learned to Wield Power Inside Facebook."

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