However, the labels did shed some light on how those who run the platforms thought at the time. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, the platforms seemed to say, but the labels only looked like a couple of extra fluorescent tubes installed in the ceiling.
In a nutshell, the tech platforms responded to user moderation challenges with helpless acts that hid claims of power. These companies wrote the rules for their users. They decided when they shouldn’t be enforced. The labels told us what was going on and what would not be done about it. You might as well have said “good luck”. Then came January 6th.
What is Real Life – and is it Twitter?
You may have heard the phrase “Twitter is not real life” in reference to any number of situations where a group of people’s consensus on the service clashed with an external reality. (For example, the Biden campaign included the mantra before and after Joseph R. Biden Jr. won Democratic Elementary School)
Most of the time, this point is made with a wink – get off the computer, go outside, talk to people who don’t tweet all the time if you want to know what’s really going on. Of course, it’s what you hear most on Twitter itself, where it once sounded wise, but over the years it has sometimes sounded like wishful thinking that borders on despair, especially when it comes from people – and I’ll only claim here about speaking to myself, other reporters can speak for themselves – who owe so much to the service professionally that it feels unethical to speak about it without disclosure. (Imagine the information label: “This reporter reads Twitter in bed on either side of the day.”)
To be fair, Twitter has changed quickly. In 2015, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush exchanged insults on Twitter when it was novel, timely, but mostly taken as a joke. Until 2017, President Trump tried to practice border politics with tweets.
Three years later, along with hordes of regular users, lawmakers used the platform to ask the general manager of Twitter to ban the president in order to keep American democracy intact, as the president himself was calling for an election he lost. There was no ignoring Twitter without ignoring Mr. Trump, and there was definitely no ignoring Mr. Trump.