Dear Twitter, Don’t Impose Your ‘Truth’ On Us

Dear Twitter, Don’t Impose Your ‘Truth’ On Us

by Tushar Gupta - Saturday, May 30, 2020 12:06 PM IST
Dear Twitter, Don’t Impose Your ‘Truth’ On UsTwitter CEO Jack Dorsey
  • The aim of digital platforms such as Twitter should be meaningful engagement and the facilitation of conversations.

    But when they begin grandfathering human discourse, based on their perceptions of truth, they’re no different from the monstrous, one-eyed cyclops.

In a world of more than seven billion people, one person’s truth is a lie for someone else.

A sugarcoated opinion by someone is often a crude agenda for someone on the opposite of the economic spectrum.

A government’s cause, often for a righteous reason, is election propaganda for many in a different social setup.

A non-fictitious tale quoted by some journalists is laughable fiction for many.

The revolution of one leader is terrorism for an entire population, and often, in India, an elected thriving democracy is a cruel dictatorship for some.

To put it in a gist, give me enough people, and I shall give you enough truths.

Of the many profitable businesses in the mainstream media online, ‘fact-checking’ is, perhaps, the latest fad.

For some smaller players, especially in India, the path to the doorstep of one political party passes through a ‘fact-checking website’ owned by people who like to think of themselves as the Mother Teresa of Twitter.

It’s a simple drill. Pick up a stray news report from a news website, channel, or any social media handle and point out an obvious lie, or question an unlikable truth.

Viewed from one angle, it’s indeed a noble job, for such actions do eliminate content that propagates hate, calls for communal violence, and incorrect reportage.

However, the existence of one absolute truth is like that of a unicorn, imaginary and impossible.

This is where the mainstream media in the West failed.

After Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, the entire mainstream media, led by some of the biggest names in the industry, ran a campaign on Twitter and other digital platforms that almost convinced us that Russia had something to do with the loss of Hillary Clinton.

As gullible consumers of information online, incapable of deciding their own truth and intellectually handicapped to make our own political choices as many in the media assumed, Americans were told that the victory of President Trump had more to do with Russia’s meddling on Facebook and not the voters who passionately wanted to ‘Make America Great Again’.

Some went a step further and questioned the need to make the nation great again, for one person’s idea of a great America was another person’s nightmare.

Nevertheless, the lobby on the Left, known for its stubbornness but also for its impeccable pursuit of ‘truth’ and holiness that could put the likes of Dalai Lama to shame, continued on its quest to prove that Trump was elected president only after Russia conspired against Facebook to trick gullible voters to vote for Republicans.

We are now in the last six months of the first Trump tenure, and Trump has neither been impeached nor concrete Russian interference has been proven.

However, we have seen a similar charade being played out back home online, especially on Twitter.

Around the 2014 elections, some faces of the mainstream media, who were seen as credible and knowledgeable (pause for laughter), moved mountains of words and cruised through oceans of primetime debates to convince the population of India its desire for change was based on incomplete political understanding.

In the first tenure of Prime Minister Modi, Indians were verbally slapped online, especially on Twitter, for being intolerant, for not being a safe haven for minorities, and so forth.

The second shocker came in 2019 when this lobby, known for its presence in the power corridors of Delhi, realised that its days of owning the monopoly on ‘truth’ were over.

What followed was almost a meltdown that played out like a matinee show on Twitter.

After Article 370 were revoked, Indians were presented with ‘credible knowledge’ that people in Kashmir were going to be ‘slaughtered’.

The decision on Ram Mandir was to give rise to ‘Hindu radicalism’, as per some more ‘facts’.

Six months ago, around 15 per cent of the Indians, belonging to religious minority groups, were told that they would be ‘stripped off their citizenship’.

Today, no one has lost citizenship because of the Citizenship Amendment Act, Hindu nationalism is as real as life on Mars is, and Kashmir is on the path of development.

The same lobby, now, wants the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and maybe Tinder too at some point, to help them own the monopoly on ‘truth’ again, and for Indians, Americans, and anyone else they can find to agree to their version of one absolute truth.

The leadership of the tech industry, in this case, Twitter and Facebook, can either be seen as under pressure or simply aligned to the thought process of this lobby.

While the pursuit of ensuring no hate speech stays on the platform is indeed noble, the problem begins when the pursuit is extended towards deriving that one absolute truth.

What if Google embarked on a project to fact-check emails?

What if Facebook began auditing companies before it could list them on its platforms?

What if the mailmen stopped delivering mails he considered to be factually incorrect?

What if social networking giants fail to realise where the line is to be drawn?

In their entirety, social media networks are enablers for conversation, for engagement, for communication, for business, and that should be the end of it.

If they must get into the business of governing truth or deciding one for their users, they are no longer a neutral platform, but indeed an editor with a very strong, stubborn, and a radical viewpoint.

This is where Twitter went wrong with Trump.

While the tweets from the current President do not make for an ideal lesson on digital communication or even factual accuracy, Twitter still has no right to impose its own version of the truth, backed by media players who are infamous for their own inaccurate reportage on numerous occasions, on its users.

The path to that one ‘absolute truth’ begins with the alienation of many who may disagree with that idea of truth, may have a counter-argument, or may simply wish to believe in something else.

Thus, by pushing a notification for ‘fact-checking’ along with Trump’s tweet, Twitter is setting a dangerous precedent for the future.

If Twitter wants to decide the truth for Trump’s 80.6 million followers, are they going to extend the same high-headed approach to other world leaders as well, or to the leaders of the Opposition in these countries, or against a Chinese diplomat attributing the virus outbreak to the US Army, or to Bollywood dimwits who can’t put 2 and 2 together and yet have ideas on RBI policy formulation, or the leader of Iran calling for war against the US, or against a misinformed JNU student stating that CAA shall lead to genocide?

Also, will they extend their approach to their own CEO who thought India’s biggest problem was ‘Brahminical Patriarchy’ and was gullible enough to pose for the cameras holding a poster of it?

Can Twitter decode that one ‘absolute truth’ for all the 6,000 tweets made per second, around 360,000 tweets per minute, for every 500 million tweets made in a day and for every 200 billion tweets made every year?

Unless they have found a way to resurrect Albus Dumbledore, the idea to decide one absolute truth for everyone is as possible as sipping a can of Diet Coke on the sun.

If Twitter wishes to extend this courtesy to people with a blue tick alone, or only leaders of the free world, then they will have to choose a side, for India or the US are not China and there is indeed room for contrasting opinions.

If they want to choose a side, they must be treated as such legally, as Trump has rightfully pointed out.

For all its achievements, Twitter must be celebrated as a platform that has warranted intelligent engagement amongst people from many walks of life on issues that concern civilisation on many fronts.

Unlike Facebook, with an outdated interface, or TikTok, where zombies rule, Twitter has been instrumental in driving digital communication.

What it must avoid, however, is imposing its version of the truth on the users, for that does not make it the neutral social media network it has always been and must be, but an apologetic corporation looking to seek the validation of people on one side of the political spectrum.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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