Twitter can't win when the other side plays to lose

Troll Twitter Warning
Troll Twitter Warning (Image credit: Android Central)

Did Twitter really think politicians would play by their rules? That by merely stating that a Tweet had run afoul of the same rules they moved heaven and Earth to avoid implementing it would somehow change someone's behavior?

Pray they are not that naive.

But here we are. Mere days after Twitter first labeled a tweet by the person currently serving as President of the United States it's quite obvious that the grand experiment isn't just an abject failure — it immediately was turned into a weapon by someone who normally couldn't wield anything more dangerous than a 3-iron.

The problem, as it's been long before Jan. 20, 2017, is that one side is pretending there are rules, and that those rules have any sort of heft to them. That after years of nonsense and asshattery by a petulant teenage troll, shaking a finger in the general direction of someone who has recently reached legal adulthood and gently asking them, if it's not too much trouble, to Cut that out, boys ... might have any sort of positive effect.

If you'll allow for a bad quotation:

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. — Kyle Reese, in The Terminator

Substitute "terminator" for "troll," and that's what we have here. The politicians who quickly found their tweets labeled didn't accidentally stumble across the line. They didn't even gently tiptoe up to it and hope nobody noticed. They know exactly where the line is, and what happens when they cross it. And what happens the next time. And the time after that.

Yes, Twitter might slap this on their tweet and limit its organic reach.

This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.

It might event do that expeditiously. (More often, though, it does not.) But in pretending that it doesn't, in fact, operate on the internet — where nothing ever truly disappears — Twitter is insulting the intelligence of anyone who's ever logged on. As if screenshots don't exist. As if we don't just take the text of a tweet and reproduce it in the name of public interest — or in a subsequent tweet from another account. As if that wet fart of a punishment doesn't actually bring more attention to a narcissist. Where Twitter sees itself as attaching a Scarlet T to the tweet, the troll sees it in the form of Superman's crest. It's an obvious badge of blue-checked honor bestowed by the same people who would dare to eventually half-way enforce any sort of impotent rules.

Twitter won't win this fight. It can't win this fight. It lost this fight long ago, when it decided having a decent online society wasn't worth the trouble. It ceded any and all authority when it created a platform open to terrorist and teacher, worshipper and white nationalist alike, all in the name of "open" debate.

But debates have rules. They have decorum. They have consequences should one side not just break those rules, but willingly flout them. For the troll — even (or especially) one in high office — following those rules isn't the point. Winning an argument and bringing someone around to your way of thinking isn't the point.

The outrage is the point. The attention is the point. And when you label one tweet by an obvious troll, you create 10 more to feed that cycle. And 10 more after that. And 10 more after that. The troll wants you to say his name. It is for that very reason why I do not do so here. And it's for that reason why we in the media also are fighting a losing battle over this. We are shining a light on a cockroach with no shame.

Twitter cannot bargain with the troll. It cannot reason with it. The troll doesn't feel pity. Or remorse. Or fear. (Or, especially, shame.) And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until our last ounce of societal pride is dead.

That is the house that Jack built.

Phil Nickinson
  • Great writing. So what do you suggest be done?
  • Elect better people.
  • "Elect better people" would be great if you pretty much didn't have to be rich to get elected to any meaningful position. Both sides of the aisles suck and we need something more than just "elect better people." The system needs revamped from the top down. 
  • Only one way to do that: Elect better people.
  • Again that would be fine and dandy if the barrier into politics wasn't astronomically high.  The two parties do their best to keep their stranglehold on things. I mean that is why Bernie got the shaft 2 elections in a row (and why we have Trump now). 
  • Twitter wants everyone to think Trump's tweet was a dog whistle to incite violence. Regardless of your political leaning and whether you love or hate Trump, any president would have to be out of their darnn mind to endorse mass violence and gunning down civilians. Trump obviously meant the national guard and local law enforcement must control looting with the threat of armed and deadly force if necessary, because the local government lost control of the situation. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what Trump was conveying. I guess the covid lockdown got Phil's TDS on overdrive. I had more respect for you as an *android* blogger. I don't need or care about your politics.
  • That's some pretty impressive mental gymnastics you've done there to produce that interpretation.
  • It's not mental gymnastics to any rational person. Criminals, thugs, and thieves were given an inch, and they're now trying to take a mile. Appeasement has never worked. Force has to be met with force.
  • "Criminals, thugs, and thieves". Oh you mean the cops.
  • I don't see cops rioting and looting stores. I guess you watch videos from different sources.
  • Probably the same "publicly regulated" sources his water is coming from :-P
  • Cops have looted and vandalized the black community for years. Much of which is historical and quite easy to look up.
  • I am not denying there are dirty cops. And I am not saying such cops haven't abused power in the past. But I am referring to what is taking place *right now* in multiple cities, and it's not cops doing the rioting and looting. Quite easy to look up, indeed.
  • Actually, yes, in many cases right now it is the cops inciting violence and planting false flags by destroying property and blaming it on "rioters" as an excuse to use violence.
  • Lmao. And you accuse me of using extreme mental gymnastics to explain what is happening. Do you seriously think cops are behind all of the violence we are witnessing? Let me get this straight. You think police departments all over the country are working behind the scenes coordinating all of this chaos, in order to "plant false flags" so they can blame everything on civilians? Is that your hypothesis? Do you realize how paranoid and ridiculous that sounds? I think your tinfoil hat is too tight and is cutting off circulation to your brain.
  • For starters just Google "Civil Asset Forfeiture". If you just want to focus on the recent events there are countless videos of cops instigating violence towards protesters and destroying property unprovoked.
  • Twitter is the new public square. It should be a platform for free speech. Free speech is a right and should not be regulated or censored (except in the instances that are already carved out by the constitution. E.g. direct threats of violence). Even when tech companies try to regulate it will always backfire as the author is pointing why even attempt it? It's not like we want Twitter or any other company regulating free speech anyway. That only gives the billionaire tech oligarchs the power to be the proverbial Orwellian "Ministry of Truth". Of course they will use this power to serve their own interests...they have a fiduciary responsibility to do so after all (public corporations are legally required to protect profits). Twitter needs to be taken over by the public and regulated as a public utility where all constitutional free speech rights apply. Disclaimer: I'm the furthest possible thing from a supporter of the president. I'm merely a free speech absolutest. Without the right to free speech we will inevitably become controlled (we already are) by the powers that be (government, corporations, moneyed interests) with no avenue to spread an alternative message that could eventually pull us out of this dark timeline and into something better. I'll leave you with this to ponder: If you're not willing to protect the free speech of those you vehemently disagree with then you never believed in free speech.
  • Except Twitter isn't a public square, the internet is. These are two very different things, and it's important that you understand this distinction. Twitter is a private entity that is not bound by the First Amendment. They are allowed to express their private views by flagging whatever they think is inappropriate. It's in their Terms Of Service, which you agreed to by using their platform. If you don't want that label, create your space on the internet, that's what it's there for. No one should regulate the internet as a whole. No one should regulate who gets to post on the internet. Your space on the internet should be yours. Twitter is not your space, nor is it anyone's space except Twitter's. They provide a service, we all have to abide by their terms. If you don't like it, create your own space.
  • I should create my space? Intriguing idea. I'll look into it.
  • Yeah I understand that Twitter is a private missed the part where I said Twitter should be turned into a publicly regulated utility. It has become the new public square. It seems my entire point went right over your head.
  • > publicly regulated utility That's a nice oxymoron you've got there...
  • You do know that is a thing that already exists... Where do you think your water and electricity come from?
  • Assuming *you* are an American and assuming *your* water is *not* coming from the well on your property... it is coming from government-regulated public utility company... which is slightly different from *publicly* regulated utility... Now, I do know where *my* water is coming from and let me assure you it is *not* coming from anything "publicly regulated".
  • Oh you really got me with that semantic argument (a bad one at that). Obviously I am talking about public utilities that are indeed REGULATED by the public be it at a local community, state, or federal level (aka not controlled by a private company).
  • Now, you really got me confused... I have assumed you are US resident and, as far as I know, in that country energy and water *are* controlled by private entities, albeit regulated by the government at the state level (mind you *state*, not federal, not local community). Now, *you* can argue that your state BPU is *public*, but then you would have to stay consistent and say that your state police is public... and I am not sure *you* would like this line of reasoning. Now, if you hearken from the different country, where *public* actually controls public utilities... I offer you my apologies for being presumptuous and (if it is not too much to ask) would really appreciate if you'd name such a country.
  • I'm talking about the US. You're getting caught up in some attempt at a semantic argument. I'm not sure if you are purposefully being dense or if you really don't get the point. I'm talking about regulating Twitter as a public utility...that's all. There are different flavors of this be it private companies with government (aka PUBLIC) control, or actual government entities such as police (which yes is a public service. The public pays for it, the public (government) regulates it, and it is in service of the public good).
  • > some attempt at a semantic argument Erm... not being native English speaker I assumed "semantic argument" (as in argument about the meaning) is the one worth having... you make it sound like The Bad Thing(sm). > dense or if you really don't get the point. I'm talking about regulating Twitter as a public utility...that's all. I am dense (a little), but now I see your point -- let's regulate Twitter like a water company... because it worked wonders for the residents of one Flint, Mich. (since you *are* an American, I am sure you know what I am talking about).
  • What he said. ☝️
  • I actually love that we obviously hold contradicting political opinions but can agree on this.
  • I guess my issue with what you said is you can't run into a movie theater and cry fire. So even in America there are limits to free speech and being a free speech absolutist is actually contrary to American values. To me, running around claiming, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" during a time of mass protest can only be said to cause mass panic, especially when stated by the President of the United States.
  • Yelling fire in a crowded theater is one of the carve-outs I mentioned that already exists. In the US there are a small number of limits on free speech outlined in the constitution and legal precedents. Now, another of those carve-outs is for inciting violence. What the president tweeted could indeed be classified as that an as such he should face potential consequences for it. Though I don't think that censoring the tweet is the appropriate that only reinforces the behavior because he's getting the reaction he's looking for (as the author of this article points out). It's also, you know, something that people actually should see and we should have a public record of because it is indeed a horrific statement. I think people have the right to hear what their president is saying no matter how terrible it is because it shows us who he really is. Rather than censoring the speech on twitter (which is toothless and has the opposite of the intended effect) he should face legal and political consequences.
  • > In the US there are a small number of limits on free speech outlined in the constitution and legal precedents. You do realize that First Amendment to the Constitution of the US of A only prevents government on federal and state level from curbing free speech. Private entities could do censor pretty much what they want. One of the recent decisions by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals WRT Twitter and Facebook confirmed that. I grant you, the case has not made it all the way to the Supreme Court, so it might change, but as of today, movie theater security could throw you out for reading proclamation in the lobby and live happily thereafter.
  • This is why they need to stop being treated as a platform and to start being treated as a publisher. Because they are now a publisher.
  • Are publishers government entities in US and therefore *are* subjects of the First Amendment? If not, I am not sure what your point is...
  • "This is why they need to stop being treated as a platform and to start being treated as a publisher. Because they are now a publisher."
    This is such a terrible argument that really doesn't get how this works at all. I get it, it's said on right-wing blogs and by random people on Twitter/FB, but it's not accurate. This is, again, an example of a complex problem being reduced to bumper sticker sloganeering. It's ridiculous. If Twitter "is treated as a publisher" it means they are liable for everything that gets posted on Twitter. That means they can be sued for defamation for something YOU posted. And if a crime happens and it was published on Twitter before it happened, they could be sued for that as well (and may even be criminally liable). As a result, Twitter would just clamp down on all "free speech" because it would be too risky otherwise. This is no different than how Android Central's writers can post an article, have it be under 1st amendment protection as a publisher, but we can also be sued for defamation. And if an AC writer advocated for political assassination, "doxed" someone, threatened their life, or encouraged a crime to happen in a published article, our company could also be liable (possibly criminally). In comments here (platform), you have NO rights or protections, and no 1st Amendment guarantees. But we are also not liable for what you say. That's Section 230. Read the origins case that started with Prodigy and understand why it even exists. What you actually want is this: You want the US gov't to nationalize Twitter. Take it over. Regulate it through the federal gov't and give everyone 1st Amendment protections. The idea of a "conservative" president and senate advocating for that and actually making it happen is a stretch of imagination. It is also, as you could probably discern by now, a very socialist move to make.
  • > But we are also not liable for what you say. Did you, actually, run this by your legal department before posting here? I would assume that your liability is limited, possibly down to mere removal of the specific comment, but, judging to the fact that your site is available in EU, it must be abiding by GDPR and a few things besides. Limited liability still is a liability...
  • If you violate our TOS, or I'm just having a bad day, we can remove or edit your comment, delete your account, ban you for life, etc. If you say something inflammatory, illegal, link to something illegal, that is very likely what would happen.
  • > If you say something inflammatory, illegal, link to something illegal, that is very likely what would happen. ... and if you *do not* [remove or edit /my/ comment], after the illegality was pointed out to you, the liability will be all yours... which is the point I was trying to make.
  • This would only be true is you believed that the "shooting" he was referring to came from the state. It's painfully obvious that he was referring to the natural course of riots where looting and shooting go hand-in-hand. The problem is that our media "betters" told us that it must mean something else and therefore we need to rage more. It's like everyone has lost the capacity for critical thinking.
  • Here's some really interesting background on that.
  • Twitter, et al, have tried to create a utopian "community" out of a world which is anything but. If your panties get wadded up every time someone says something you find offensive, you should stay off social media. Social media is a narcissistic failure.
  • Was the Twitter the one, who said, in the interview given to BBC, that they are planning to ban all media with the close ties to any government or was it Facebook?
  • Android Central must be *really* desperate for clicks... but it is working , so good for you guys.
  • Every internet platform ever deals with an inevitable truth - that content moderation at scale is an impossible task. That's pretty much what every story about moderation gone wrong boils down to. It gets even more complicated when you're dealing with elected officials - especially country leaders.
  • No moderation is the only way.
    Stop trying to limit and control what people say.
    Its not our, yours, or anyone else's place to decide what should and should not be said. If you try to moderate then you will fail. Too much to cover and too many opinions and beliefs. This all comes down to control.
    The defense of moderation is that it keeps lies and deceit from influencing the people.
    In essence you want to control what these people are exposed to because you feel they are too stupid or ignorant to decide for themselves. People are lied and deceived on so many levels every day. Politian's lie like I breath air. Then you get into even murkier waters in trying to determine what is truth and not truth. Truth can be/mean different things to different people depending on their perspective. Depending on their exposure. Again no moderation is the only way. Stay out of it.
  • This dude gets it.
  • Here's a fact you may not know. Moderation also helps prevent spam, scams and other internet nasties from overrunning a particular platform.
  • Oh look, liberal Phil turning Android central all political. 🙄
  • > liberal Phil comparing to some other staff writers, he is almost centrist.
  • You must be new here.
  • Great piece Phil!
  • Simple answer, just uninstall social media and news apps... I have and now I don't get upset and it's bliss... If anyone shares news stories or links to social media I don't open them, just delete them... Try it, it's great...
  • Obviously you have not uninstalled enough or you would not be reading this article... :-P
  • Hello, is this I thought this was a website about Android, not a political tabloid.