Twitter is not for quitters – The New York Times

That was the moment conservative Twitter tried to cancel itself.

Major social media networks moved aggressively to crack down on serial spreaders of false and potentially inciting information as myths about Covid and voter fraud swirled around the 2020 election. Right-wing commentators and activists swore en masse to delete their accounts.

They included political figures such as the former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and popular media personalities such as Dan Bongino, who made a throbbing, bouncing quarrel and urged fans to follow him to the all-social media universe of platforms – they now include Pearls , Rumble, Gettr, Gab and the Trump-branded Truth Social – where he said they would be free of the “tech tyrants” from Twitter, Google and Facebook.

It did not take. Back then, as now, it often seemed that the sport of mocking party political opponents in a forum they shared – “owning libs”, as many conservatives called this favorite occupation – was the way some social media users had the most fun . Not to mention it was how they achieved elevated status with their peers – and followers.

There’s not much more of a reason today to believe that dialogue on the right will migrate into its own self-serving, independent bubble, now that Elon Musk has reached an agreement to buy Twitter for $ 44 billion – an agreement that would allow him to take the business privately and to scrap Twitter’s newer standards for moderating what users post.

In recent months, as platforms like Gettr and Truth Social have come online and expanded, the universe of users has grown – although growth has been erratic and difficult to substantiate independently, experts said. Gab, which markets itself as a place where “everyone is welcome”, has said it has 20 million users. Gettr, who is run by a former senior assistant to former President Donald J. Trump, Jason Miller, said this month that it had exceeded five million registered users. Rumble, which has positioned itself as a video-sharing platform for people who find YouTube’s content moderation suffocating, said it now had about 40 million monthly users.

Twitter reported last week to have 229 million daily active users.

Mr. Bongino, who said he has equity in Parler and Rumble, was back on Twitter just a few months after his rejection. Now he rarely lets an hour go by during the day without saying anything. For example, one day last week, in just six hours, he tweeted more than 20 times.

The fact that so much conservative content continues to circulate has likely helped to put a cap on the overall platform for platforms targeting people who are offended by the actions social media companies have taken to limit harm. and extremist content. And that indicates that even a little bit of Musk-loosening moderation on Twitter could be the end of anyone needing a separate sandbox.

“There has to be an incredible, demonstrated value to getting people to move over,” said Joan Donovan, who studies social networking at Harvard University. “People have to think they’re getting something special they can’t get anywhere else.” In the case of Parler, who benefited from a wave of new users after the 2020 election, Ms Donovan said a particular ingredient was a sense that they could say things they could not on Twitter and Facebook.

“You had a really serious effort from sitting Republicans and right-wing journalists to get people to move over, promised special content, promised no censorship,” she added.

Conservatives’ claim that they are being shouted down in public is not entirely untrue if the metrics are measured in a certain way – for example, by ordinary conservative speakers who are no longer regulars in the college lecture circuit.

But on Twitter, voices from the right are still plentiful and well represented. Research has shown that Twitter’s algorithms have not stifled the proliferation of content from right-wing sources, nor have they silenced right-wing political parties around the world. In fact, the reverse seems to be true, despite Mr. Musk’s intention to make it more balanced.

“For Twitter to deserve public trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means disrupting the far right and the far left equally,” he said this week.

A recent review conducted by researchers on Twitter, which looked at millions of tweets from April to August 2020, showed that the algorithms that determine what content users see actually amplified tweets from right-wing lawmakers in seven countries, including the United States, more than for the left-wing legislators.

Separately, the study examined millions of news articles from US media posted on Twitter in the same time frame, and found that content from conservative media performed better. “Outlets with a strong right-wing bias are marginally strengthened more than content from left-wing sources,” it said.

Right-wing accounts were never removed from Twitter to the extent that the sometimes exaggerated comment suggests, although some high-profile users have been temporarily suspended for violating standards aimed at protecting transgender people from harassment or to stop the spread of misinformation. about vaccine, for example.

What has happened is that conservatives have run a campaign to label all attempts at content moderation – a practice similar to how online news organizations or private discussion forums choose which user comments should be allowed – as censorship.

“The reclassification of moderation in general as censorship was really picked up by a lot of the president’s supporters, and it became a political hug,” said RenĂ©e DiResta, who has studied the information flow online during the Trump years for Stanford Internet. Observatory.

The feeling that social media companies have devised a plot to systematically mute voices on the right, Ms DiResta added, “gives rise to a lament that they are being censored.”

And it’s become very popular, repeated every night on Fox News, daily on talk radio and from congressional halls, where Republican lawmakers like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas complain about “Big Tech’s PURGE, censorship and abuse of power.” (Mr Cruz’s preferred platform for submitting the special complaint? Twitter.)

Some have already predicted that Mr. Musk’s purchase will not make Twitter that much more unmanageable. Despite the company’s attempts to curb the ugliest inciting political rhetoric, there would never be a way to remove it. Much of it remains, as do thugs and saboteurs that Mrs. Donovan recently discovered while teaching a class and searching for puppies as part of a demonstration on Twitter’s search function. To her shock, pornographic posts appeared, she said.

The way both ends of the party’s political spectrum perceive the Musk agreement is likely to simplify the reality of what his leadership would do on the platform – not to mention how foolish it could be to predict the whims of an eccentric billionaire whose political views are filled with discrepancies.

“A loss for people on the left, a victory for people on the right – I think the extremes are overthinking this,” said Adam Sohn, executive director of the Network Contagion Research Institute, which studies the spread of ideological content online. “And Elon Musk is probably enjoying this,” he added.

His group’s research suggests that attempts to punish bad actors on social media are misunderstood. When people were barred, they simply migrated to platforms like Gab, where extremist content spreads among a more specific population. “Our research consistently shows that deplatform people are pushing them underground and only radicalizing them more,” said Mr. Son.

A Network Contagion Research Institute analysis of Gab showed that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website InfoWars in the summer and fall of 2018, for example after certain high-profile banning events on Twitter – freed the platform for accounts belonging to Proud Boys, – Gab experienced significant increases in membership growth.

One possibility for Twitter’s future, which some progressive activists have been talking about as Mr Musk came closer to concluding his deal, is that left-wing users will quit en masse. There is little evidence that anything significant has happened so far. As was the case with many Twitter condemnators on the right wing, the protests can be a lot of blisters.

“We expect there will be an intensification of the Twitter stop rage,” Mr. Son. “Whether it’s going to be actual people leaving Twitter remains to be seen.”

Charlie Kirk, a right-wing activist who has cultivated a progressive-antagonistic persona, had his account suspended last month for posting material about transgender people who Twitter said violated its terms of use.

Mr. Kirk’s account was reactivated, and he resumed tweeting last week, beginning with a message that said, “What thought crimes should I commit today on Twitter?” He followed up with several, including one who declared the existence of an “undeniable war against white people in the West.”

He then explained his return to the platform he had spent so much time criticizing, saying, “Because of new leadership, I’m back on Twitter.”

In fact, there is no new management. Mr. Musk’s deal is not expected to close until later this year, when he would own the business and be able to do with it as he pleases.

It seems like Twitter may be too big for someone, right or left, to cancel.

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