On Censorship, Twitter and Facebook Philosophies Are Different

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO proposed a more transparent solution. Mark on the other hand was more technical but direct with his response.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

During the recent Big-tech companies hearing, Facebook and Twitter founders and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey were asked if social platforms should provide more transparency around the algorithms they use to decide what users see.

And they both gave responses that might be indicators of the present ideological standings of both companies, especially with regards to user data management and censorship.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO proposed a more transparent solution

by saying he thinks “a better option is providing more choice to be able to turn off the algorithms or choose a different algorithm so that people can see how it affects ones’ experience”.

And he indicated that Twitter can also adopt a sort of third-party “marketplace” where users could select ranking algorithms that suited their needs.

Mark on the other hand was more technical but direct with his response

by instead choosing to praise Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program (and the community’s standards reports that present aggregated numbers on the rule-breaking content it removes, summarily:

Facebook’s algorithm is “fixed” and it is what it is.

These responses point to the present stance of both companies concerning openness and data privacy with Twitter tend to be showing signs that even though a completely open platform may not be entirely achievable, it is ready to implement features that point toward openness.

For example, any Twitter user would be familiar with updates on policies coming from a verified official Twitter handle while Jack himself takes time to use his official handle to explain new policies.

However, on the other hand, one of the most popular data privacy scandals ever which involved Facebook hasn’t really helped the company’s data privacy policy as most people feel the platform is highly over-competitive and would do anything to remain market leaders, and it’s an opinion usually confirmed by Facebook’s acquisition of potential competitors and threats like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Hence, Mark Zuckerberg’s comments at the recent hearings may not really do much to change that feeling.

However, it’s tempting to quickly look at one stance as better than the other as Jack’s stance would appear as a more progressive and better stance compared to Zuckerberg.

However, the fact is that both stances are reflections of core ideologies of both social media giants and their respective desires to stand out from the other.

Despite, Facebook being the biggest company, Twitter remains its biggest competitor after Facebook acquires WhatsApp and Instagram, hence, Twitter has always felt the need to operate with a different ideology to Facebook with Facebook also reciprocating by similarly almost looking for opportunities to distance itself from anything that likens them to Twitter.

A perfectly recent example in addition to Zuckerberg’s comments in the hearing was the period in which Twitter fact-checked Donald Trump’s tweet in May.

The action irritated the president as he threatened all social media companies with an executive order with a lot of debates springing up as to whether such actions portray Twitter as trying to be an arbiter of truth, during that heated period for Twitter, Facebook was quick to point out that they can’t fact check the president’s post on Facebook because they are not an arbiter of truths, Zuckerberg was quick to point out that:

“We have a different policy I think than Twitter on this,”

Even though both sites take down content that violates their terms of service, but Facebook’s approach, he said, has

“distinguished us from some of the other tech companies in terms of being stronger on free expression and giving people a voice.”

While Facebook does apply labels to misleading posts, it exempts from review posts by politicians and they didn’t really find the comment to reach the level of violating their policies of misinformation, a move which is also meant to further discredit Twitter.

However, asides from trying to further discredit twitter — which is a typical Silicon Valley competitive move — the recent consistency with the court hearings comments, suggest both platforms actually have different philosophies and ideologies and these different philosophies are the driving force behind how they plan to operate and are not necessarily a pointer to which platform may be more righteous.

Censorship and Decentralization

If you look carefully at the different philosophies I try to paint via actions and comments, you will find that the underlying difference is in how both these two platforms individually see censorship, decentralization, and managing user data.

Facebook and Twitter are both social media platforms that act as chokepoints of information; they operate a similar model like Google by aggregating consumers(users) then allowing their customers(advertisers) to pay for access to these consumers through promoted content and targeted advertisements.

However, the difference between both social media platforms and Google in the form of decentralization that these platforms have as core feature; Facebook and Twitter allow users to create unique personalities that have the potential to become powerful — powerful in the sense that one can build a massive online presence and followers if he knows how to leverage both platforms well and he can be as ‘powerful’ as he wants.

For example, Jack Dorsey the founder and CEO of Twitter has about 4.9 million followers on Twitter while Paul Pogba, a professional soccer player for Manchester United has 8million followers

hence, Jack’s position as the owner of Twitter does not give him an edge over Pogba with both personalities being verified and thus meaning Paul Pogba can be considered as a bigger personality than Jack that owns the platform.

The example I described with Jack and Pogba is just one of many examples of the features that show that Twitter and Facebook both operate as a form of a decentralized system for anyone to build online authority and power.

However, the concept of censorship and how it affects their position as decentralized platforms is what differentiates both platforms.

And as I highlighted before, Twitter and Facebook get their power by acting as chokepoints of information, hence, Governments and private institutions have had to create Facebook and Twitter accounts to communicate with their audience, since they know that’s where most of their audience is most likely to be. Private personalities and celebrities are also very conscious about building a reputable brand on either of these platforms, because of their large audience.

Hence, to really see where I’m going, you need to picture Twitter or Facebook as a door standing firmly in between a business and its potential customers, a government and his people, or a celebrity and his her fans

and to gain access to these people one just has to create an account with these platforms and in some cases pay to get your message to a larger audience, therefore, these social media giants can decide to give you access or not and also decide to what extent your access can be restricted,

especially based on the sensitivity of your content with Facebook totally frowning at nudity or pornographic videos whilst Twitter has a very relaxed policy about such,

however, the more controversial aspect about restriction is about information and personal opinions:

Facebook believes that if they start censoring information as to whether they are true or false, then they become an arbiter of truths while twitter believes that they on the other hand are obligated to fact check the validity of information passed by people especially notable personalities.

Fact-checking or information censorship is the biggest factor in the censorship and decentralization conundrum I’m trying to explain; when you stand as a judge as to what is true or false and not allow people to decide, you are first of all restricting people from sharing their opinions of what they think is true as truth in itself is a subjective matter.

Hence, you are going totally against the theme of decentralization that your platform stands for, also, the features that fact check information would most likely have human inputs in them, meaning as a chokepoint of information and the sensitivity of your role, any restriction you put in place must reflect absolute accuracy and automation and not a personal bias.

For example, everyone knows nudity is when you show exclusive sexual organs of men and women, hence, a restriction on that is automated and cannot involve any bias, hence,

except for the recent Trump campaigning team’s baseless tweets and Facebook posts that have both being pulled down by both companies because they are baseless and undermine the just concluded election.

Facebook had stuck to just ‘labels’ which is the barest minimum for content moderation while Twitter has been adopting a lot of experimental features to supposedly increase ‘friction’ on the platform with the company universally disabling one-click retweets before the U.S. election, hoping to make user behavior less reactive while slowing down viral election misinformation and also hid tweets and restricted sharing for some particularly egregious bits of misinformation, some coming from Donald Trump.

Hence, Facebook stance against fact-checking is not just restricted to standing apart from Twitter, but a clear indication of their core philosophies: they are chokepoints of information, and hence, it’s not their role to be an arbiter of truth while it is more obvious what

Twitter’s philosophy is looking more like: We are chokepoints of information, and it is our responsibility to point people closer to the truth.

You see why I told you that neither philosophy is exactly superior but each of them is extensions of principle and the company’s core beliefs.

Facebook wants its platform to remain as decentralized as possible with people having the responsibility to filter out their own truth except for extreme cases- like comments seeking to undermine an election based on baseless claims.

Because they do not believe that as a platform that is supposed to give everyone equal power then they can’t be overriding’s people truth, while twitter thinks they can maintain order in the society and prevent people who try to incite violence by making sure that they flag tweets that can be misleading and point people to the truth by restricting the spread of controversial news.

Neither platforms are perfect

and Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal would always make people feel insecure about their data privacy policies, but Facebook fears that when it comes to censorship, it is better to avoid it totally or at best introduce only in extreme cases where it is obvious to anyone.

Because it seems impossible to actually not end up adding their own human perspective or opinion and thus acting as an arbiter of truth; it was revealed that Facebook prefers to outsource its fact-checking used for ‘labels’ to media outlets like Reuters and maintains that it has nothing to do with any outcome of the fact-checking done by the media partners (who Facebook pays).

While on the other hand, for example, the first fact-checking that happened in May by Twitter on Donald Trump’s tweet, the reports by a Twitter insider suggest that because of the gravity of the action to be carried out, Jack Dorsey had to sign off on the President’s tweet being fact-checked.

Hence, as much as Twitter claims to be more open to more friction and more openness, the two major questions however are:

1 — At what point won’t the final decisions on what is right or wrong be decided by a human being?

2 — How will Twitter navigate more delicate situations if it keeps adding features that encourage information censorship? Will Partial Openness not later lead to bigger problems?

Final Note

Twitter seems to have really good intentions as they are appearing to really want to have a more open platform, but answering those three questions seems to be why Facebook is preferring to remain consistent with a different stance: Our algorithm will remain as rigid as it is but we will not as an arbiter of truths except in extreme cases.

On Censorship, Twitter and Facebook Philosophies Are Different was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.