Twitter has posted several messages from Donald Trump as misleading or as glorifying violence. - Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

  • By reporting, in the space of a few days, several tweets from Donald Trump because they were factually misleading or praised the violence, Twitter intervened for the first time on messages from a political figure.
  • the American president did not fail to retaliate by shouting at censorship and by signing a decree aimed at framing certain practices of social networks.
  • Can this pass of arms signal the start of a new approach to social media vis-à-vis political communication? 20 Minutes asked Alexandre Eyries, teacher-researcher in information and communication sciences and author of the book “La communication poli-tweet” (L'Harmattan), the question.

The cloth burns between Twitter and Donald Trump. By warning its users that two tweets of the American president were misleading, the social network for the first time, Tuesday, May 26, confronted the first fake news "fake news" with its own untruths. 

Trump's tweet posted via Twitter for glorification of violence. - OLIVIER MORIN / AFP

The mention “verify the facts” is thus attached to tweets from Donald Trump denouncing the “fraudulent” nature of the postal vote: by clicking on this mention, the Internet user is redirected to a series of articles demonstrating why this assertion is widely exaggerated. A measure that Twitter justified by improving its "civic integrity policy" to prevent these tweets from misleading voters when the presidential election approaches next November.

The interested party obviously did not fail to react to denounce the “interference” of Twitter in the ballot and an attack on freedom of expression, before adopting a decree aimed at limitingthe scope of their content moderation. The social network has since reoffended this Friday by reporting a tweet from Donald Trump on the outbursts in Minneapolis as contrary to the “Twitter rules on the glorification of violence” - while leaving it online “in the public interest” , even if you can't answer it, "like it" or retweet it without comment. A fate also reserved for a tweet from the White House repeating the same words of Donald Trump.

.... These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!

- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020

Do the measures taken by Twitter herald a change in the social networks' approach to political communication on their platform? Elements of response with Alexandre Eyries, teacher-researcher in information and communication sciences at the University of Burgundy, and author of the book “La communication poli-tweet” (L'Harmattan).

Since the election of Donald Trump in November 2016, Twitter has had many reasons to “fact-check” a tweet from Trump. How to explain that the platform does it only now?

I think it's more of an accumulation effect, faced with the multitude of Trump tweets that are offensive, hateful or full of falsehoods. There are also context effects: there, it is that of the American presidential campaign. It was not a random tweet that was targeted, it was a very involving tweet.

Twitter, which had already made significant progress in banning political advertising, is aware that Internet users are starting to want, socially speaking, quality publications. People are well aware that there is more and more misinformation and there is a need for truth. At some point, it is the reality principle that comes back, Trump is sent back to it, even as president of the first world power. Social networks are a space for free speech but we cannot write everything and we are responsible for what we write, including on a legal level.

Could we expect to see Twitter generalize this type of verification?

We see that it is quite shy with this first case, you have to do the process of going to click on the mention to see that it is a tweet to take with a lot of tweezers. It seems difficult to systematize this type of verification, because Twitter, like Facebook, has long surfed on a very pluralistic vision and very free of exchanges and publications. Many people today have an unfiltered voice on Twitter, which ensures their esteem success. But this speech has never been regulated until then.

The possibility that publications are systematically regulated for the political class seems difficult to implement, that would mean that the whole international political class accepts the fact that its political publications are fact-checked and verified.

Maybe Twitter will systematize the fact-checking tool, the algorithms are powerful so they can process a number of things, but I think Twitter reserves the right to intervene in a homeopathic way, on a case-by-case basis. Freedom of speech should no doubt prevail over the necessary regularization.

Isn't the risk, for social networks, of having to  justify having checked the words of one political figure and not another?

It could indeed earn them a number of harsh criticisms, already that they are accused, rightly, of not having censored pages of hatred or incitement to violence, whether for Anders Breivik[the Norwegian mass killer] or for others.

Adopting a posture of verification would be tantamount to posing oneself as a paragon of morality and virtue, and this position seems quite complicated to hold for Twitter as for Facebook - all the more so since the latter presents itself as a simple tool for relating users. If we considerthat the role of social networks is to be able to express yourself freely, to say everything and do whatever you want, the fact-checking posture would necessarily be frowned upon since we could say: who has the right to speak, including Donald Trump, why censor him when others are not censored? "

Twitter is a very important tool in terms of political communication, precisely because there are flaws, a gray area, which allows us to be over the top. Trump is used to it, he enlarges the line, he exaggerates, he is in permanent attack ... During his campaign, in 2016, he had uttered a sentence which had gone largely unnoticed: "I could post on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, I wouldn't lose votes either. It is quite incredible to see that it had not caused any reaction. And his Twitter account has always served him to stage himself in a role of provocative born.

If these social networks start to become assistants to the gendarmes, to be a sort of thought police, I'm not sure it would work. We should find criteria grids that are not discriminating.

For example by fixing a “red line”, like the electoral polls?

One could indeed imagine sticking to everything related to the organization of elections, registration on the lists, everything that revolves around the electoral process. Or the policy publications on mass murder, hate speech. But if we start to categorize, we will probably forget a part of the population and we open a Pandora's box: once we have found exceptions to the rule, the principle no longer works. Unless we can find a grid of criteria sufficiently consensual to be accepted by all political parties.

Doesn't the decision to “fact-check” a tweet from the American President ironically play into the hands of Donald Trump, who has not failed to counterattack since?

It's easy for Trump to brandish free speech as a standard, saying, "You see, my own word as Presidential candidate for re-election is being ragged! Twitter has taken the risk of exposing itself to a very salty response, and to rhetoric that will turn the phenomenon to its advantage. This plays into the hands of the victimized political camps, like that of Trump.

The fact that Twitter reported, in the process,another tweet from Donald Trump  who violated his"Rules relating to the glorification of violence" mark a new stage in this beginning of struggle between Trump and the social network?

Twitter has chosen the half empty glass posture: we don't remove the tweet from circulation because it may be of interest to the public but, at the same time, we emphasize that it breaks the rules. Knowing that Trump is used to this excess, the platform finds it difficult to cut off the valve of the insulting and insulting tweet, so it still amounts to walking on eggs.

Keeping the tweet online, it shows that Twitter is able to separate the wheat from the chaff, not to do outright censorship, but to exercise scrutiny when it sees fit. Between these initiatives and Twitter's commitment to political advertising, there are two significant advances in social networks not towards censorship but towards control. It is a bit of a show of force on Twitter's part, as if to say: "We will not yield to anyone, even the President of the United States. It is a way of symbolically marking their territory.


Twitter: Twitter reports Donald Trump's tweet as misleading, a first


Twitter again reports a tweet from Donald Trump, this time for "apology for violence"

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