By Liam Jeffries
When it comes to having a direct conversation about politics online, it’s been a long, commonly held viewpoint that social media and politics go together as well as pineapple on pizza: they are best if kept apart and easily become toxic when combined.
Because it’s extremely hard to find out who a person is online unless they flat out tell you, and because of the difficulty of delivering any sort of recourse to the people behind the most offensive, incendiary, or, especially in the case of politics, blatantly untrue comments on a platform, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are extremely good at bringing out the absolute worst in anybody who uses them.
It’s this inherent and easily exploitable flaw in these networks that made them so vulnerable to Russian meddling in 2016, and in the wake of this event especially, there’s been mounting pressure on these sites to do something, anything, to combat this.
Facebook responded by establishing a fact checking system for political posts that, based on their continued acceptance of political ads with blatant falsehoods, appears to miss whatever mark they were aiming for. Twitter, meanwhile, announced they would no longer accept any paid political ads. As shocking as it may sound to those accustomed to social media sites messing things up, they may have actually hit the nail on the head with this policy.
After all, no matter how fact checked a political ad may be, because of the aforementioned flaws of social media, there will always be a chance for pure toxicity to develop around an ad due to the anonymous nature of the platform, and because of Twitter’s ability to bring out the worst in people on any topic, this would have most likely applied to any ad put on the platform about any candidate or issue.
Therefore, by eliminating the paid political ad system on Twitter entirely, they are removing the possibility of the bubbles of toxicity that normally develop around political ads from ever forming again, and though, by leaving regular posts untouched, there will still be toxicity surrounding politics on the platform, at least with this policy there is one less spot where it can develop. Candidates can still create campaign ads and share it on their own timeline, but that limits who sees it and gives more power to the profile to manage away trolls and bad actors commenting up and down.
It’s also telling that, as opposed to the negative reaction to Facebook’s policy from the left, most of the negative reaction to Twitter’s policy seems to be from the right, especially far right groups that thrived off the ability to get away with saying absolutely anything online with their ads. Most notable of this group is Brad Parscale, the campaign manager for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. But as the old saying goes, if Trump doesn’t like it, more likely than not, it’s probably something you should support.
So, for once, I would like to congratulate Twitter for getting something right with their platform, and I sincerely hope that other social media networks follow their lead.