With the presidential election just four months away, paranoia about the quality of information being fed to the U.S. public is at an all-time high.
This week, a cyberattack on Twitter confirmed those fears as several verified accounts were compromised. Hackers then posted from the accounts.
The Twitter hack underscores how difficult it is for social media platforms to stop the spread of fake news despite their best efforts. This is especially true in the case of Twitter, which recently took an epic stand against Donald Trump’s alleged misinformation campaign.
Just a few weeks ago, the internet was abuzz with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to take a stand against the president by adding fact check links to Donald Trump’s tweets.
Dorsey’s decision to call out Trump contrasted with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s stance, which was to allow the president to say what he wants.
All of this eventually led to an advertising boycott from many prominent firms, all of whom were frustrated with politicians’ ability to spread lies via social media.
Fast forward to this week, and it’s clear that the whole fact-check-Donald-Trump thing was little more than a symbolic protest against the president. While it’s noble for Dorsey to ensure the president is adhering to the community’s guidelines, the things Trump tweets aren’t what will influence the election, at least not in the fake-news way people believe.
Like it or not, Donald Trump is the president (for now). He is one of the most visible people in the world, and he isn’t just saying these things on Twitter. He’s saying them on Facebook, on TV, at rallies— everywhere. He’s divisive and his morals are questionable; adding a fact check to some of his tweets sends a message, but it doesn’t make Twitter any safer.
Although what Trump says may not be true, it’s still him saying it.
On the other hand, Twitter’s hacking episode calls into question the authenticity of any tweets on the platform. Several big-names, including Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, all had their accounts compromised in what appeared to be a cryptocurrency scam.
Twitter’s biggest problem now isn’t Donald Trump lying or promoting violence; it’s reassuring users that what they’re reading came from the person who created the account. This time around, it was a cryptocurrency scam, but what if the next big hack comes at the cost of the U.S. election?
What happens if lower-level influencers and politicians have their accounts compromised? How long would it take for the media to realize and report that the tweets were fake? What if it happens just a day before the election, potentially swaying thousands of voters?
There’s also the question of how exactly Twitter can control what comes out of prominent accounts. So far, the hack appears to have compromised some of Twitter’s employees. It’s prompted some to question whether Twitter has the power to tweet on behalf of other accounts.
A few weeks ago, we all praised Jack Dorsey for his heroic efforts to make the election fair and stop the spread of fake news. We pointed the finger at Zuckerberg for not doing enough because he allowed Trump’s posts to go unanswered. Now it’s time to question whether censoring politicians makes social media a safer place.
This week would suggest that policing what Donald Trump says online should be at the bottom of our list of priorities.
Last modified: July 16, 2020 8:24 PM UTC