This time around, Twitter chose it battle well. It set its target and fired its shots towards the president of the most powerful country in the world.
It took the unprecedented step of adding a fact-checking label to President Donald Trump’s tweet that the upcoming US elections will be rigged. It then hid a Trump tweet that it said “glorified violence” after he commented on the Minneapolis protests.
On Saturday, Twitter took a step back and said that it saw that the president had not violated its rules. The about-face surprised observers around the world, both those in support and against its political position. The opponents had criticized Twitter, saying that Trump’s tweets were not extreme and that his comments were no different than those of politicians across the globe.
I believe that Twitter had planned out its war against Trump and achieved its goals, at least up until it made a tactical retreat. Its moves against the US president did not stem from strict regulations it claims to uphold, as demonstrated by the large number of politicians who incite violence, such as the Iranian regime rulers. It has never taken any such moves against them.
However, sparking a clash against the world’s most powerful president, who boasts 80 million followers on a platform with 330 million users, will boost Twitter’s standing among other social media platforms. Twitter will no doubt benefit in the market from challenging Trump, even though its shares did slide on Thursday and Friday. Nevertheless, the company is perhaps banking on having staged the most significant marketing campaign since its inception. It has also garnered the support of the anti-Trump media, landing itself as a player in their major battle against the American president.
Contrary to traditional media, such as newspapers, television channels and online news portals, Twitter is not responsible, according to US law, for the content that is posted on its platform. If the tweet is posted by a politician, then ethically and legally, the politician themselves, not the platform, should be responsible for their statements. The law protects social media platforms from potential lawsuits that can result from comments or videos posted by users, even if they promote hate speech and terrorist propaganda.
This only confirms that Twitter chose to become involved in a fiery confrontation as part of a media stunt it believes can boost its standing and credibility regardless of the backlash.
What Twitter failed to realize is that by taking such a direct political stance, it is risking having millions of Trump supporters, who are Twitter users, turn against it. This means that the battle is no longer just against Trump, but with his supporters, who will naturally take a similar position as him. Can Twitter really go through with this battle to the end? Can it, through its backtrack, admit that it was wrong? Can it end the battle after achieving its goal?
It goes without saying that no media outlet in the world is completely unbiased politically. Freedom of expression is determined according to the agenda of the media. Social media has now become embroiled in making political stances, while it has long claimed to offer a platform that is open to all opinions. It is surprising to see Twitter not only take a political stand, but also set standards of extremism in line with its political leanings. Does any sane person out there really believe that Trump is fueling extremism and that Ali Khamenei, Hassan Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif do not?
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.