Since the 2016 presidential election, social media has only grown as a critical part of spreading and conveying news and information.
Twitter specifically has been one of President Donald Trump’s most valuable tools for communicating with the public, making it impossible for the platform to stay out of politics — especially during the 2020 presidential election.
That said, Twitter has set in place new procedures that help moderate the information circling the platform in an attempt to prevent misleading information from misinforming users. One of these tactics is an initiative where users are encouraged to read an article before retweeting.
And though it might be a bit relieving to see Twitter take some control of the chaotic political sphere, the issue gets a bit more complicated when you dig a bit deeper.
Twitter originally began experimenting with this system in June for Android users, but the October update rolled out the feature to all users.
We’re seeing promising results from this prompt, so we’re expanding the test to iOS.Sharing an article with a Retweet or Quote Tweet? If you haven't already read the article, we may ask if you'd like to open it first. pic.twitter.com/eFrZcoUjWC— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) October 1, 2020
With the new update, whenever a user attempts to retweet some articles that they haven’t read, a message pops up reading, “Headlines don’t tell the full story.” Below that, it says, “You can read the article on Twitter before Retweeting.”
The user has the option to read the article or, with an additional click, continue past the alert to retweet the post.
The feature has undoubtedly been a part of Twitter’s efforts to stop the spread of disinformation.
And stopping the spread of disinformation is a good thing — right? Most would certainly agree that it is, but the specifics of Twitter’s method is a bit confusing.
Some have called out the feature for blocking certain political messages, though there is evidence that this message has been prompted from different types of articles — including ones that aren’t political at all.
But when considering that the message doesn’t appear for everyone or for every link, it makes sense why one might wonder if there is some kind of bias in which articles Twitter is labeling.
It’s great that Twitter wants to keep its users informed, and it’s great that it wants to do this by encouraging people to read articles before retweeting them. But this initiative seems to be Twitter claiming the role of a news outlet of sorts, and we can’t overlook the fact that Twitter is a private company with corporate interests.
What might bypass this issue, perhaps, is if Twitter decided to attach this prompt to every single article posted to Twitter, eliminating the question of how it decides and whether or not the decision-making process itself is biased.
However, even if you implement a system where every article triggers this message, users might become desensitized to it, which would then defeat the purpose.
As journalists, we are no strangers to fight against the spread of disinformation. And while Twitter’s system has some flaws not to be overlooked, it’s hardly a bad thing to suggest social media users do some more reading.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Grace Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.