If all that makes your head spin, you’re not alone.
Both Facebook and Twitter allow politicians to lie in posts on their platforms; misinformation sent to tens of millions of followers from the accounts of the most powerful people in the world is not against their rules. As Mark Zuckerberg has put it previously, “Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiters of truth.”
Except they are. Every hour of every day Facebook and Twitter make judgments about the veracity of information shared on their platforms — they are arbiters of truth.
Both companies have explicit policies preventing users from sharing dangerous Covid-19 misinformation. Both companies also say they do not allow voter misinformation, including voter suppression efforts. By setting those rules and enforcing them at all, they are deciding between what is true and untrue.
The issue isn’t only whether the companies are willing to arbitrate truth, but whether the rules they use to do so are applied consistently and clearly.
On Thursday, for example, the company announced it had banned The Committee to Defend the President, a pro-Trump PAC, from running ads because it had repeatedly shared misinformation. CNN has reached out to the PAC for comment.
Twitter, by comparison, placed a label on an identical post from Trump on its platform, saying it glorified violence. The episode highlighted another key cause of confusion: The big tech platforms sometimes diverge from one another in their approach to handling political misinformation and incendiary speech. This is particularly problematic when the same content is often shared across multiple platforms, whether posts, ads or video clips.
Inconsistency of rules within and across companies, combined with a lack of enforcement of said rules, means peddlers of misinformation have a better chance of success if they post something false or incendiary to multiple platforms. Sure, it may get removed from some platforms, but maybe not all of them.
Four years after online misinformation was weaponized in the 2016 election, Big Tech is still on the backfoot.