Trump’s war against Twitter might have destructive implications for other social media platforms, but there’s one that Trump very much wants to keep on his good side. Facebook.
For months, Twitter has been inching towards calling out Trump’s tweets when they include misinformation (which is pretty much always). On May 26, Twitter finally did it — they labeled one of Trump’s tweets as “potentially misleading.” Reflexively, Trump signed an executive order aimed at “preventing online censorship,” but actually limited legal protections for social media companies. As NPR and the New Yorker note, experts say this is mostly just political theater and probably will not adversely affect the companies it targets, but it is nevertheless absurd, infantile, and worthy of derision.
Quick to come out and say that Facebook wouldn’t be following in Twitter’s footsteps was Mark Zuckerberg, on Fox News no less. Zuckerberg’s bizarre obsession with being a techno-anarchist and Trump’s Facebook propaganda machine are a dangerous combination. Zuckerberg doesn’t care about the consequences, and in coming out to Fox News about his disinterest in targeting misinformation, he effectively went up to Trump and told him face-to-face that he’s safe. Zuckerberg said it in no uncertain terms: “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth.”
But despite Zuckerberg’s kowtowing to Trump, Twitter doubled down. On Friday, Twitter labeled one of Trump’s tweets as “glorifying violence,” which it very much did. In his tweet, Trump said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and threatened to send in the National Guard to control protests that have erupted in the wake of black American George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.
What does all this mean for Trump and his relationship with Twitter and Facebook? Well, it looks like it’s going to make the 2020 election interesting. Conservatives have already slammed Twitter for censoring Trump’s “free speech” (read: hate speech and inciteful speech). It looks like Twitter won’t let Trump get away with eroding the truth any longer, and Trump might sever ties with the brand if it keeps neutering his bullshit proclamations.
Facebook, on the other hand, is quite different. Trump does well on Facebook. He buys many enormous numbers of ads on Facebook. This executive order, while probably toothless, flexes power that Zuckerberg wants to avoid. His interest is in keeping Facebook as profitable as possible, which means taking as much of Trump’s money as possible. They need each other. Without Trump, Facebook loses money, and without Facebook, Trump loses a propaganda outlet.
In sum: Expect to see escalations in Trump’s new social media assault and expect the consequences to transcend US borders. After all, election meddling is the new fad in town.