Twitter Screws the Pooch, QAnon Bans, and FCC Takes the Bait

Twitter Screws the Pooch, QAnon Bans, and FCC Takes the Bait
Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that the 2020 U.S. election is just 18 days away, which may count for the inexorable sense of doom hanging over everything, or the sensation of that time is warping like the event horizon of a black hole. Before we’re smashed into an accretion disk, you might as well catch up on the present:

Twitter fucked up big time

This week, the New York Post published a factually inaccurate, hole-riddled article — cited to a stolen hard drive obtained by ambulatory wineskin Rudy Giuliani — supposedly offering evidence that Joe Biden colluded with his son, Hunter Biden, on corrupt deals in the Ukraine. Facebook, where the story was going viral, announced it would take steps to limit its further spread. Twitter went one step further and banned sharing links to the Post’s story entirely.

The response by right-wingers was immediate and predictable: The bans were another example of liberal big tech companies abusing their power and more grounds to terminate their Communications Decency Act Section 230 protections, which protect sites like Twitter from most legal liability for user-generated content or their moderation decisions. That’s noise. The real issue here is that Twitter found itself in a no-win scenario and instead tried to cover its own arse.

Twitter could have ignored the Post link — which would have opened it to criticism by Democrats furious about election interference. It could have also attached warning labels to the links saying the information wasn’t verified under its policies on disinformation, or at least cited that policy in banning the link. That would have still infuriated Republican politicians and pundits, but it would have at least made sense. Instead, Twitter cited a policy supposedly imposing a blanket ban on the distribution of hacked materials.

That was, from a civil-liberties perspective, incredibly troubling. Whether or not Twitter has a First Amendment right to block whatever it wants, investigative journalists routinely republish information that was leaked, hacked, or otherwise obtained without consent of whoever held it in the first place to expose abuses of power and major crimes. Twitter’s hacked materials policy was also always selectively enforced, usually in a way that seemed to reflect outside pressure and with little rationale as to why it was in the public interest. It’s less of a coherent policy than a convenient loophole.

Twitter has since backed down and is no longer blocking the article, with CEO Jack Dorsey saying that “straight blocking of URLs was wrong” and Twitter exec Vijaya Gadde saying the policy would no longer block material unless it “is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them.” That’s commendable, but as colleague Dell Cameron noted, Twitter has yet to actually move to reverse bans on sites like law enforcement data repository @DDoSecrets.

Brace yourself

A few weeks ago, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Commerce Committee unanimously voted to subpoena three tech CEOs: Twitter’s Dorsey, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Democrats reportedly signed on to the subpoenas after committee chair Senator Roger Wicker assured them there’d be time to address anticompetition and privacy issues as opposed to ranting about anti-conservative bias.

The date of the hearing is now set for October 28, on which we will learn whether the GOP honours the requests of their Democratic colleagues or this will just be five hours of yelling about how few pageviews the Daily Wire got that week or something.

Again with the 230 bullshit

Donald Trump’s ridiculous, almost certainly unconstitutional order tasking the Federal Communications Commission with revoking websites’ Section 230 protections if they “discriminate” against the links of @MAGAhotdog1488 refuses to die. The FCC’s spineless chair, Ajit Pai, announced the agency will seek to “clarify” Section 230 in accordance with the president’s order, which might not mean much unless Trump wins re-election.

Not to be outdone, the president simply called for Section 230 to be revoked wholesale, which make his order meaningless.

WeChat still not banned

The U.S. government has been trying to ban wildly popular social media app TikTok (unless it’s sold to a U.S. company) and messaging app WeChat, which it insists are both security risks because they’re owned by Chinese firms. WeChat has 19 million users in the U.S., many of them Chinese Americans who use the app to keep in touch with relatives, friends, and business partners abroad.

Oracle’s shady offer to buy a slice of TikTok is still in limbo, but no ban has gone into effect. As for WeChat, a federal judge indicated an injunction against the ban will remain in place, as the Department of Justice has yet to offer a compelling rationale beyond something something Communism.

It’s not a good documentary

The Social Dilemma, Netflix’s hot-button, over-the-top panicked documentary on social media apps, has a lot of holes. Among them is that one of its examples of coronavirus disinformation might have actually been Tik Tok satire of conspiracy theories, according to the person who uploaded it.

YouTube is becoming a mall

Facebook and Instagram have long had “social shopping” features, which is a euphemism for injecting content with ads that try to lure viewers into adding an item into a cart without ever leaving the page. Now YouTube is reportedly doing exactly that, which may threaten to make it more annoying and ad-laden than ever. One can only pray no one gets the bright idea to load up Netflix shows with this crap.

Good news for once

Twitter confirmed to Gizmodo that Trump will no longer qualify for its definition of a “world leader” if he fails to remain president after Inauguration Day, which means he will no longer be above the site’s rules or be able to try literally governing by tweet. This in theory means the ex-president would be eligible for a Twitter ban, though don’t hold your breath.

The ban list

Here’s who and what got the shaft over the past few weeks:

  • Rally Forge, a contractor for diaper-loving boomer meme factory Turning Point USA, got ganked on Facebook for running a network of fake conservative accounts.
  • Facebook announced it will now and ban all Groups, Pages, and Instagram accounts devoted to the future of the Republican Party (also known as QAnon). Good thing there’s no chance QAnon will simply rebrand to “Save the Children” or something.
  • YouTube has banned disinformation about coronavirus vaccines, raising the question of why it didn’t previously ban disinformation about coronavirus vaccines. Facebook claimed it banned antivax ads but hasn’t really.
  • Facebook and Twitter have banned Holocaust denial, but feel free to continue denying other genocides on Facebook. This might be news to anti-Semitic organisations like the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, which is still on Facebook.
  • Trump’s post claiming the coronavirus is no deadlier than the flu got axed from Facebook, which means you’ll have to wait 20 seconds to see him say the same thing somewhere else.