06 Nov 2020 18:27 IST

Twitter is having its cake and eating it too

Policing inaccurate posts by Trump lends it credibility, but misinformation can rise as uncertainty lingers

Twitter is getting the best of both worlds in the US election. The social network’s label on inaccurate posts by US President Donald Trump helps lend it enough credibility to maintain user interest. But there are big opportunities for misinformation to go viral with lower profile users as uncertainty about the White House race lingers. That gives Twitter an indirect boost, too.

Jack Dorsey’s firm was quick to act in flagging misleading statements after polls closed. After Trump tweeted that Democrats were trying to “steal the election” on Tuesday night, Twitter slapped a label that said the content was disputed and made it harder to share the tweet. Several other labels since have been added to his account. The Election Integrity Partnership, made up of a group of online researchers, said those kinds of moves contained the spread of such posts.

Dangerous virality

Even just the spectre of Twitter policing such content could keep more sceptical users engaged instead of turning off the platform, staving off boycotts that have previously been effective over similar issues. But bigger challenges lie ahead. It’s unclear when a winner of the presidential race will be declared as vote counting continues in Pennsylvania and other battlegrounds. Even after a winner emerges, hurdles remain. The Trump campaign has already filed multiple lawsuits and the president declared victory on Twitter in several states where results haven’t been finalized.

Twitter labelled those posts from Trump, too, but they were still re-tweeted 118,000 times as of Wednesday night. And #counteveryvote was one of the top ten trending topics in the US throughout that day while numerous posts with #stopthesteal were shared thousands of times. They included calls to protest at various vote counting stations, which started to happen late into Wednesday night.

Twitter has been tougher than Facebook and YouTube in policing content. But it benefits from allowing users to clock in, and the election cycle has been a boon for its numbers. Daily active users jumped by almost 30 per cent in the third quarter, partly thanks to the pandemic and upcoming election. As conspiracy theories spread, a too soft approach also enables Twitter to benefit from dangerous virality.