This morning, Donald Trump woke up to find that Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) was doubling down on its efforts to tame his tweetstorms.
Liberals have long wondered why Mr. Trump’s tweets don’t face the same scrutiny as the rest of the community. Jack Dorsey has finally stepped up to the plate.
Trump has vowed revenge in the form of an executive order that aims to make it more difficult for Twitter to police what people say.
He justified the move by claiming that Twitter and other social media sites like Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) are unfairly suppressing conservative voices.
It turns out, Donald Trump is right. Sort of.
Changing the way Twitter and Facebook operate would disproportionately affect conservatives.
That’s not because either site is right or left-leaning, though. It’s because conservative users tend to be the loudest.
Over the past four years, social media sites have come under fire for exacerbating political tensions. To combat that, Facebook explored ways to tweak its algorithm .
During that process, the company found that so-called “super-sharers” were dominating the conversation. Super-sharers are the most prolific social media consumers – they share, post, and comment on 1,500 pieces of content or more.
These accounts tended to have extreme political leanings, which were more visible than a “normal” user, whose views tend to be more moderate.
Facebook debated taking away some of that power by making super-sharers less visible. Ultimately, that proposal was quashed – in part because it would disproportionately impact conservatives . (At least in the U.S. In other countries – where fewer conservatives were “super-spreaders” – the opposite was true. )
But what about fact-checking on Twitter?
Twitter chose to fact-check Trump on an extremely partisan issue – mail-in voting – using the very sources that he’s been sparring with over the past four years.
That sparked outrage among conservatives. They believe it’s a political move designed to silence Republican voices ahead of the election.
While Dorsey and Twitter’s motivations are up for debate, there’s no question that a universal fact-checking regime would disproportionately target conservative voices.
But once again, it’s not because of any sinister Silicon Valley plot. It’s because conservative super-sharers on Twitter tend to spread more misinformation than their left-wing counterparts.
That’s not to say highly engaged liberal users don’t spread misinformation. But based on data from the 2016 presidential election cycle, right-wing accounts do it more frequently.
A study by Northeastern University found that 80% of so-called “fake news” on Twitter came from just 1% of real users – whose political views tended to skew toward “extreme right.”
These accounts were posting hundreds of times per day, giving them a much wider reach – and making a fact-check warning all the more prudent.
Aside from the personal embarrassment this Twitter battle could inflict on him, President Trump is likely worried a more aggressive fact-checking policy would damage his reelection campaign.
It’s no secret that he relies on his “keyboard warriors” to advocate for him on social media. These highly-engaged conservatives are the exact group both Facebook and Twitter have been trying to regulate.
And make no mistake, these keyboard warriors succeed at energizing Trump’s base.
Age, not political affiliation, is the common denominator among the people most vulnerable to fake news.
That’s a good thing for Trump, because older voters tend to have the largest turnout at the polls.