OAKLAND, Calif. – Twitter took steps on Friday to slow the flow of information on its network and even change some of its most basic functions as the weeks leading up to the presidential election grow alarms, lies and calls for violence.
The changes will temporarily change the look and feel of Twitter. The company is essentially giving users a timeout before they can click the button to retweet a post from another account. And when users try to share content that Twitter has flagged as incorrect, a notice warns them that they are about to provide inaccurate information.
Twitter also said it would add a label to claims about who won the election until it was hit by authoritative sources.
The steps announced on Friday are the most dramatic in a series of steps social media companies have taken over the past few months to curb the flow of misinformation leading up to the November 3 election and are likely to attract the ire of most Twitter Attract fans of famous user, President Trump.
Corporations will make significant efforts to avoid a repeat of the 2016 elections when Russia's disinformation flowed uncontrollably on Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube, owned by Google. Facebook and Google have committed to banning political ads for an indefinite period after polls closed on November 3rd. Facebook also said a banner at the top of its news feed would warn users that no winner would be announced until news outlets called the presidential race.
In this election, much of the fake news on the platforms came from domestic sources and, in some cases, from elected officials. That has forced companies to walk a careful line between stopping false narratives from going viral and having a real impact while countering the arguments that they have become self-proclaimed censors.
“Twitter plays a critical role in protecting the integrity of the election interview. We encourage candidates, campaigns, news outlets and voters to use Twitter respectfully and to recognize our collective responsibility to voters to ensure a safe, fair and legitimate democracy process this November, ”Twitter executives Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour said in a Explanation.
In the past few weeks, Twitter has already added warning labels about lies posted by elected officials – flagging several of Mr. Trump's tweets – and cracked down on photos and videos manipulated to mislead viewers. The company has not accepted political advertising for almost a year.
Most of the final changes will take place on October 20 and will be temporary, Twitter said. Labels warning users about sharing incorrect information will appear next week. The company plans to wait until the result of the presidential election is clear before reactivating the features.
The Twitter execs said the "added friction" with retweets will encourage users to add their own thoughts before clicking the button. If users decide they don't want to add anything, they can tweet again after the prompt.
The change is likely to have a direct impact on Mr Trump's online activities. He has had a Twitter tear since returning to the White House on Monday after being hospitalized for coronavirus treatment. For example, on Tuesday evening, he tweeted or retweeted posts from other accounts about 40 times.
The Trump campaign reacted angrily to the Twitter changes on Friday afternoon, calling them "extremely dangerous to our democracy".
"After months of big-tech censorship against President Trump, the unelected coastal liberal elites of Silicon Valley are again trying to sway this election in favor of their preferred ticket by silencing the president and his supporters," said Samantha Zager, deputy national Press secretary for the Trump campaign said in a statement.
The Biden campaign declined to comment.
Twitter's pre-election changes are far more aggressive than those of its peers and could sacrifice some of the ways traffic is routed to its service. Twitter also turns off the system that suggests posts based on a person's interests and the activity of the accounts they are following. In their timelines, users only see content from accounts they follow and ads.
“I think the platforms are trying to throw everything on the wall to see what's stuck here. It's not clear what the correct answer is, but they try almost anything, ”said Nate Persily, co-director of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center.
Vanita Gupta, president and executive director of the Civil and Human Rights Leadership Conference, said Twitter should consider making some of the changes permanent as there are constant elections around the world and Twitter has a duty to protect those elections as well.
"These are important steps, but we will be vigilant to see how these play out in real time," she said.
Twitter has stopped shutting down its Trending Topics feature, a change that many reviewers say would do the most to combat misinformation, as users can play the feature to promote false or misleading information. Instead, Twitter will expand its efforts to verify fact and provide context on items that are trending in the US.
Over the past year, Twitter slowly removed portions of its service that were used to spread false and misleading information, including misleading tweets from Mr. Trump.
That has sparked a backlash from the Trump administration. Mr Trump, who has 87 million followers on Twitter, has called for the removal of the legal protections that Twitter and other social media companies rely on.
However, Twitter's fact-checking continued. Recently, a start has been made to add context to trending topics to give viewers more information on why a topic has become a subject of widespread conversation on Twitter. This month, Twitter plans to add context to any trending topics featured on the For You page for users in the United States.
"This will help people more quickly gain a deeper understanding of the extensive public talk in the US and reduce the potential for the spread of misleading information," said Ms. Gadde and Mr. Beykpour.
Twitter's trends illustrate which topics are most popular on the service by highlighting content that is discussed frequently. The trends often serve as a point of contact for new users trying to figure out how to find information on Twitter. However, internet trolls and bots have often used the system to disseminate false, hateful, or misleading information.
As recently as July, trending topics were hijacked by white nationalists who promoted the anti-Semitic hashtag #JewishPrivilege and by QAnon, a conspiracy group that trended furniture company Wayfair on Twitter, with false claims that the company had been trafficking children. The embarrassing episodes prompted critics to take to Twitter to end trends altogether.
Mr. Persily said the feature should already be turned off. "What use is it really?" he said.