What’s in a tweet?
Well, it depends on the tweeter. Messages sent via Twitter cover the spectrum: Alerts about approaching tornadoes, complaints about a bad haircut, links to dog videos, touts for news articles, and, of course, political rants.
President Donald Trump is a big user of Twitter. Even though he whines about the forum, he uses Twitter to trash his political foes, promote himself and occasionally advertise his private business.
He complains frequently that some of his supporters have been suspended or barred from Twitter, as well as other social media companies, such as Facebook.
It’s true that some of his supporters have been kicked off social media forums, and it’s also true that some of his critics have been banned.
The reasons are simple: Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies have rules about how their products are used. Users agree to the rules when they sign up.
The rules vary, but most companies prohibit such things as threatening violence, encouraging criminal activity, misrepresenting yourself, child nudity and the release of people’s private information. Many companies also have rules regarding harassment and hate speech, which can be subjective in their interpretation.
The standards used by Facebook and Twitter are somewhat similar to those most newspapers set for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and other content.
As privately owned entities, newspapers have the First Amendment right to make such rules. So do such media companies as Twitter.
With that right comes the responsibility to treat people fairly. It’s not a legal obligation, but social media companies should apply their standards evenly, regardless of political beliefs.
Twitter has admitted it didn’t do that. It has allowed Trump to repeatedly violate its rules.
The admission came after Trump’s critics complained again and again that Twitter did not hold all users to the same standards. In response, Twitter announced plans to label tweets from political leaders that violate its policies. It won’t, however, remove the tweets or ban the tweeters. The plan would apply to Democratic and Republican leaders. Twitter says it will let the tweets stand, but note that they violate the rules.
The company’s decision seems reasonable. The president’s tweets are, after all, official White House statements. At the same time, Twitter’s rules regarding threats, misinformation, harassment and so on shouldn’t be ignored for the president or anyone else.
If you aren’t a Twitter user — and most Americans aren’t — you might wonder what all the fuss is about.
Well, it’s fair to say that much of the fuss is manufactured. Many Twitter users avidly look to start fights for attention or political purposes. Consider Trump’s recent racist rant about four congresswomen, or this sampling of other presidential tweets.
From July 12, 2019: “… Could you imagine having Sleepy Joe Biden, or Alfred E. Newman... or a very nervous and skinny version of Pocahontas (1/1024th), as your President, rather than what you have now, so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius! …”
From Jan. 2, 2018: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Trump feels he has the right to use Twitter to provoke and anger people as part of his political strategy. Twitter feels it should uphold its standards, or some form of them, even when the president of the United States violates them.
And the rest of us? Well, many of us just feel chagrin.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.