The Biden administration is having a little Twitter fight about whether or not to reset the followers of the @potus account. While followers were rolled over from the Obama administration to Trump’s, the Trump administration, who views Twitter followers as if they represented actual voters-who-love-Donald, doesn’t think the incoming president should get to inherit all of those bots and disenfranchised twelve-year olds. Let us stop and reflect on the stupidity and pettiness of this argument. What the Biden administration really should be thinking about is whether to close @potus and get the White House off of Twitter completely.
Social media, especially Twitter, has year after year been on a steady course of devolving into one of the most toxic and unpleasant public gatherings on the Internet. Long before Trump took office, social media was the leading source of disinformation, threats, harassment, toxicity, and division. Combined with a platform that adopts thought-terminating loaded language hash tags (e.g. #StopTheSteal) and abbreviated messaging that lacks critical thought, Twitter has long been a platform designed to capitalize on the cult phenomenon. Twitter has been not only markedly complicit, but in a position to profit off of the toxicity, disinformation, and abuse it allows by the Trump administration and other public officials who’ve started emulating the behavior.
Warning labels and interstitials only recently came into existence after years-long disinformation campaigns were allowed to run rampant to the degree they interfered with elections, rousing congressional interest. Rather than pat social media on the back for warning labels, however, consider the accounts that many of these warnings appear on should have instead been thrown off the platforms years ago for the massive number of CoC violations that promoted violence, extremism, hateful conduct, harassment, doxxing, and even copyright violations.
Instead, social media created an “upper class” of privileged people who didn’t need to obey the rules everyone else has to, positioning them as shock jocks all but guaranteeing to attract additional subscribers (a key metric in their valuation) and gain frequent exposure from news media. Congress continues to debate whether or not Twitter is a publisher, but it feels more like they’ve become an entertainment network. Through selectively enforcing their own policies, they’ve helped attract disruptors to their platform in a way that gives them an advantage over others, even if they choose to harass, abuse, or incite violence. This certainly doesn’t give people on the platform an equal voice, and when a provider starts favoring one voice over another, it should call into question whether they really qualify for Section 230 protections.
The Biden administration seeks to bring unity to the American people. Unity is a concept that is sadly counter to the business model of social media today. Division and hostility bring eyeballs, decency not so much, and the design of most social platforms tip the scales to reward tribalism. If the Biden administration really wants to bring unity to America, it should start by recognizing that social media is part of the problem, not the solution.
What this country needs is a dose of authenticity. If the Biden administration wants to give the American people something that feels authentic, then get the White House off of Twitter and speak to America face to face. America could use a break from social media, and remember what it feels like to hear from a president that leads.