For several years now, Twitter has been called "the new newswire." For better or worse, Twitter often has the earliest mentions of breaking news or rumors about events in advance of when they happen. Ironically, in the late 2000s, Twitter usage was waning, and its future relevancy was in doubt. However, when Donald Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016, his tweets became the main method of communication from The White House, and usage skyrocketed --from 30 million monthly active users in Q1 2010 to more than 300 million in Q1 2017. (1) Fast-forward to 2021, and Twitter's future is once again uncertain, with a fake news twist that is deeply concerning for librarians and information professionals.
Twitter had long taken a hands-off, "we are a technology company, not a media company" approach. Indeed, in February 2018, Nick Pickles (Twitter's senior director of public policy and development) declared, per The Washington Post, "We are not the arbiters of truth.... We are not going to remove content based on the fact that [something] is untrue." (2) In early 2020, a perfect two-front storm approached: Concern over possible manipulation in the 2020 U.S. presidential election was coupled with serious COVID-19 disinformation on social media (that, per the BBC's coverage of a journal study, led to 800-plus deaths and more than 5,800 hospitalizations globally between January and March 2020). (3) In March 2020, Twitter launched a policy on synthetic and media manipulation that involves subjecting tweets to fact-checking and analysis that can lead to labeling and removal. (4)
Twitter's policy continued to evolve and become more stringent. In May 2020, the company began flagging disputed and misleading tweets, The Associated Press reported, (5) and in October 2020, Twitter began exploring changes to the labeling system to make misinformation and disinformation more obvious. It also began discussing flagging users who repeatedly post false and misleading tweets, per Reuters. (6) Ultimately, on Jan. 8, 2021, in a move that had the potential to be a final, fatal blow, Twitter permanently suspended the account of its highest-profile user, then-President Trump, stating that allowing his account to continue to tweet ran too great a risk of "further incitement of violence," CNN reported. (7)
A 'NEUTRAL PLATFORM'?
Obviously, these policies are great news for librarians and information professionals. Cultivation and curation of factual information from high-quality sources is part and parcel of our work, and it is easier for us to shepherd others through the content-evaluation process if there is a general consensus regarding individual pieces of fake news. Unfortunately, not everyone shares these values. As Twitter's policies became more stringent, conservative journalists, politicians, and others turned to an alternative platform and asked their followers to meet them "in the Parler."
Since its founding in 2018, Parler capitalized on allegations of censorship on Twitter and, in the first week of November 2020, became the most-downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices. COO Jeffrey Wernick described Parler as a "neutral platform." Whereas Twitter collects user data regarding content...