While the biggest headlines about social media in the past week have been related to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with Twitter over fact checking, that incident may have opened a deeper rift in the industry that could have a lasting impact on media and consumer PR.
For some time now, two of the biggest social media titans, Facebook and Twitter, have sparred on the public stage, while keeping a mostly rank-and-file approach to dealing with government regulators and allegations of bias in content curation. The companies “borrow” ideas from each other, poke a bit when one or the other disagrees with a public decision, and generally work very hard to keep their audiences growing. The result has been that many users have both a Facebook account and a Twitter account. They may prefer one over the other, but they’re active on both.
So, the rivalry has remained as amicable as it can be in an environment where both are competing hard for viewers and accounts. Then, Twitter decided to flag some of President Trump’s tweets with a “fact-check” option for users. While the Trump administration responded by crafting an executive order, the two company’s CEOs traded verbal jabs.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News that his company “had a different policy than Twitter,” adding: “I believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defended his brand’s move to label Trump’s tweets, saying: “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions…”
Dorsey was not the only voice associated with Twitter to reply to Zuckerberg’s comments. Former Twitter executive Jason Goldman described the Facebook CEO’s take as “a bad quote” before adding: “Going on Fox to hit Twitter in defense of Trump is really a move… Good luck.”
Some industry watchers and media critics are saying this incident could signal a crack in social media’s relatively unified stance against government interference. This is especially true given the current fractious relationship between the President and Twitter, which he has used to great effect since long before he was elected.
Some are wondering openly if this dynamic will shift if and when the federal government gets serious about pressing to redefine social media platforms and media publishers, rather than open platforms. Any move in that direction could set off a series of shifts that could lead to a sea change in how people use — or are allowed to use — social media as a whole.
At least in the short term, the White House appears to be trying to keep the wedge in place. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany drew clear distinctions between Facebook and Twitter in a recent press event, calling the companies’ approaches “two models” while quoting Zuckerberg. It will be interesting to see how this issue continues to unfold, because it could significantly influence the future of narratives on social media.