To some extent, Twitter is having its own kind of Cambridge Analytica moment. The platform did not experience a data breach à la Facebook, but it is in the midst of a very public, public reckoning.
Last week, Twitter came under fire — from both users and internal employees — for its decision not to ban InfoWars creator Alex Jones. Jones, Twitter said, did not violate the Twitter Rules. Users responded by sharing past tweets from the InfoWars creator, at which point Twitter sought to clarify its reasoning.
"Alex Jones has indeed posted inflammatory (and reprehensible) content — including accusing people impacted by Sandy Hook of being crisis actors," wrote Del Harvey, Twitter's VP of Trust & Safety in an email sent to staff and shared online by CEO Jack Dorsey. "At the time he did so, however, we hadn't evolved our harassment policy to include those sorts of accusations, particularly when they weren't targeted at specific individuals. If he were to post similar accusations today, we would take action on them; if people report past content of his that includes those types of accusations, we would require him to remove it but would not further penalize him as we work to avoid retroactive applications of our policy."
Then, this week, Twitter announced it is suspending Jones for a week, in light of a new post that included a link to a video calling on followers to get their "battle rifles." This did not stop the larger InfoWars account from sharing the link after Jones' suspension, resulting in a week-long suspension for it, too. The video in question still remained online on the Twitter-owned Periscope for almost a day.
This is not the first time Twitter has faced a public outcry: In October 2017, users called for a boycott after Rose McGowan's account was locked, following the actress's tweets about Harvey Weinstein at the start of the #MeToo movement. Twitter cited violations of its Rules at the time. Now, it is once again facing calls for a boycott. One such tweet, which has over 200 retweets, refers to this Friday as D-Day, or Deactivate Day, a time to "show Twitter you won't be a part of a place that tolerates bigotry and abusive information, specifically from Alex Jones."
At the same time, it's hard to determine how many people actually believe Twitter is in the wrong. A recent Gallup and Knight Foundation survey found that the majority of US adults are opposed to internet companies excluding "a news items that contains offensive content", including when other people have raised concerns about that content. They are largely in favour of companies excluding content that qualifies as fake news, a bucket Jones would fall into: Jones has spread lies in the past about 9/11 and the HPV vaccine's safety. InfoWars has also fuelled anti-abortion sentiment, even going so far as to announce plans for an anti-abortion protest outside of Planned Parenthood, calling it "a death cult." He issued a rare apology for promoting "pizzagate," a conspiracy theory which falsely accused a D.C. pizzeria of running a child sex ring and led to a gunman firing shots inside the restaurant.
Twitter knows it has a misinformation problem — Jack Dorsey acknowledged as much in an interview with The Washington Post today, adding that he is "rethinking the core of how Twitter works." But this acknowledgement may be too little, too late when it comes to changing the minds of those who plan to delete their accounts this week.
If you're having trouble deciding whether or not to join the calls for deactivation this Friday, asking yourself these questions might help: Is Twitter bringing more positivity then negativity to your day? If it is the latter, do you still gain useful information or insights from other users that outweigh these feelings?
If your answers veer you towards deleting your account, head to your profile on a desktop computer and tap the drop-down menu under your profile icon. Select Settings and privacy > Account > Deactivate your account > Deactivate @username > Deactivate account. To save all of your tweet history first, be sure to Settings > Twitter data > Request data beforehand. (If you want to delete old tweets instead of getting rid of your account, try one of these methods.) Should you change your mind, you can reactivate your account for up to 30 days after.