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Tale Of Two Silicon Valley Giants: How Facebook And Twitter Are Dealing With Calls To Ban Trump’s Content

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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  • President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday after Twitter applied a misinformation label to one of his tweets, as Silicon Valley companies were working to find a happy medium to content moderation. 
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking a different route, creating a large, independent oversight body to help arbitrate instances where the company’s moderators were too zealous. He also chided other social media companies that are attempting to be “arbiters of truth.” 
  • Twitter censored a different Trump tweet referring to Minnesota rioters as “THUGS,” while Zuckerberg defended his move not to remove a post on the president’s profile containing the same comments.   

Facebook and Twitter became mainstays in American culture more than a decade ago to connect people through social media, but today they are facing a new set of demands: how to contend with calls to ban or otherwise censor President Donald Trump and other conservatives.

Conservatives are railing against Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey after the platform slapped a misinformation label Tuesday on one of the president’s tweets, and concealed another on Friday. The company took action after media pundits, reporters and activists demanded Twitter ban the president after he raised controversial theories targeting MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

Trump’s critics have requested the company suspend the president since he came into office.

Facebook is facing the same problems. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, lashed out against CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday for appearing on Fox News to explain why it’s a bad idea to become “arbiters of truth” while fact-checking political content.

“This is eroding our democracy,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in a tweet responding to Zuckerberg’s comments.

How Did Facebook, Twitter Handle Trump’s “THUGS” Tweet?

Trump sent a lightning bolt through the streets of Silicon Valley when he suggested in a Friday morning tweet that the “THUGS” rioting in Minneapolis are “dishonoring the memory of George Floyd,” a black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, according to video of the incident.

The White House Twitter account quoted the president verbatim in a separate tweet. (RELATED: ‘Wretched Orange Man’: Twitter Official Overseeing Misinformation Efforts Is Anti-Trump Partisan Who Donated To Planned Parenthood)

Twitter immediately took action. The social media company concealed the tweet under a banner that reads: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” The company applied the same banner to the White House tweet.

The company cited the historical relevance of the term “looting starts, shooting starts” to justify the move. In 1967, Miami police Chief Walter Headley used the phrase during hearings about crime in the Florida city. Trump later clarified what the tweet was meant to convey, telling his Twitter followers Friday that looting often leads to gun violence, something the president said he hopes to avoid.

Twitter placed a “fact check” label on a Trump tweet Tuesday in which he alleged that California’s mail-in ballot is “fraudulent.” That move prompted the president to sign an executive order Thursday calling for such platforms to lose their protection from legal liability if they engage in censorship.

Facebook took a different direction. Trump’s message referencing “looting and shooting” and “THUGS” was published on the president’s Facebook profile shortly after Twitter took action against Trump’s tweet. His message was also posted on Instagram, which Facebook owns.

Neither post has been removed, and as a result they’ve collected a monstrous amount of engagements. It’s been shared more than 70,000 times as of Saturday and has accumulated more than 250,000 reactions. The Instagram post, meanwhile, had nearly 500,000 likes.

Facebook did not remove or conceal the posts because the company is “committed to free expression,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post Friday. (RELATED: Twitter Censors Trump For ‘Glorifying Violence’ In Tweet Vowing To Send Military On ‘Thugs’)

“Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,” he wrote.

How Do They Approach Moderating? 

Facebook is aiming to create an independent oversight body, wherein the company’s platform can impartially protect free speech and create an arbitration system. Zuckerberg constructed a type of independent body made up of a bipartisan crew of conservative and liberal judges to help determine whether specific comments, posts or links comply with Facebook’s terms of service.

The independent oversight board named a slate of 20 members out of a projected full membership of 40 during its May 6 unveiling. Under this system, Facebook users who are unhappy with a moderator’s decision can file an appeal with the board, which will choose to take a handful of cases each year, similar to the Supreme Court.

The conservatives on the board laud the idea.

“I think there is tremendous potential for doing good here. What struck me most about the people on this Board is that they are idealistic, incredibly capable, and forward-looking,” John Samples, an executive at the Cato Institute and one of the judges on the board, told the Daily Caller News Foundation on May 7.

Twitter, on the other hand, opted to become a type of security guard, moving aggressively to enforce conduct rules on its private property. The company is also taking on election-related misinformation, a move that Zuckerberg has largely downplayed, telling Fox News on Wednesday that he believes tech companies should not be in the position to determine the truth of a user’s comments.

Dorsey responded shortly thereafter, telling his Twitter followers Wednesday night that the company is not interested in becoming an “arbiter of truth.”

“This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth.’ Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions,” the Twitter CEO said.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone directed the DCNF to Zuckerberg’s Wednesday comments and Twitter directed the DCNF to the company’s moderation policies dealing with world leaders.

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