Get Off Twitter Or Stop Complaining About Disinformation

If you’re on Twitter (now branded as X), then you probably know the platform offers two content feeds.

One of the feeds contains only content posted by accounts you follow. The other—titled “For You”—features a mixture of content posted both by accounts you follow and some you don’t. Twitter’s algorithm grabs content it thinks you might enjoy (and some liked by accounts you follow) and throws them into your feed.

“For You” is the default feed, but you can easily switch it off. 

In other words, you can completely curate your feed to present you only with content from sources you like and trust—which is why I’m always surprised to see Twitter users engaging in rage circles about how much misinformation and disinformation they are exposed to on the platform.

They often criticize the platform for dropping many of its content-regulation policies following Elon Musk’s takeover of it in 2022. 

However, their criticism of Musk and of Twitter’s many purveyors of mis- and disinformation is actually a criticism of the medium they choose to frequent for acquiring information. I’ll explain how.

The internet changed the way we exchange and digest news. It also changed who gets to exchange that information. 

We The People formerly had to rely on newspapers, radio stations, and TV channels to acquire information about current events. All information coming through these channels was first vetted by editors. Further, all channels, stations, and organizations disseminating information through these media had to initially be vetted by a central government authority prior to receiving a broadcast license (in Canada, that authority is the CRTC).

The internet gave us more selection to pick and choose our preferred sources. It was a revolutionary step forward in decentralizing the flow of information. 

That step forward, however, also stripped away the central authority judging who should be allowed to disseminate information. Some may have seen this as a positive way of eliminating what they saw as unnecessary government babysitting, but many others certainly viewed it as dangerous. The technological breakthrough opened a floodgate that would allow misinformed or malignant actors to disseminate false or incomplete information to large portions of the population. 

“In today’s warp-speed world, online missteps spread faster than ever,” wrote CNN columnist Todd Leopold in a March 2012 article addressing the matter. 

This should be expected. In a world where anybody can contribute to a subject’s discourse with lightning speed, we are treated to a higher-than-ever volume of information. With that comes the need for a higher amount of audience discretion. On a public platform like Twitter, you are free to consume any information—be it true or false. 

Audiences are now privileged enough to decide for themselves what to believe and what to ignore. But that also comes with the responsibility to check sources and to further educate ourselves.   

Anyone can publish news or their opinions on the internet, but the audience will decide what is worthy of attention. If thousands of people like a Tweet, the algorithm judges it as being attention-worthy and places it on the feed of thousands of other users.

Of course, the information contained in that Tweet can be either true or false, but it’s always popular. False or harmful information is often popular. Look no further than Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

(Since Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the platform has also introduced a “Community Notes” feature to allow users to clarify false or incomplete information that receives mass attention).

But those who take issue with Twitter because of false information being spread through it are actually protesting against the medium through which Twitter operates—namely, the internet. 

Their protests are not against a platform or the man who owns it, but against a technology that has changed how the world interacts. 

Communities of people have often voiced their opposition to new technologies they view as harmful by refusing to use them. Amish people, for example, refuse to use electricity because they view it as evil. However, they do not call for a central authority to limit the population’s use of electricity as a result of their beliefs.

There’s a certain irony that many people who protest against false information being spread on digital platforms use those same platforms to voice their protests. 

In essence, they are protesting against the very medium that gives them a voice.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

15 − 14 =