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Facebook and Twitter clash over fact-checking as Trump threats intensify

by Ace Damon
Facebook and Twitter clash over fact-checking as Trump threats intensify

For years, Twitter and Facebook have enjoyed a healthy rivalry: they compete for acquisitions, talent and advertising dollars, and sometimes even go so far as to copy each other's resources in the never-ending quest to grow their audience.

But the conflict between the two tech companies seemed to take on new life this week, following Twitter's decision to place fact-check tags on some of U.S. President Donald Trump's tweets, sparking a series of threats, including an impending order executive that regulate social media companies.

The CEOs of the two companies exchanged criticisms in public. Former employees published their own scams on social media. And some lawmakers were quick to highlight the differences between the approach taken by Twitter and Facebook, potentially only increasing tensions.

"We have a different policy than I think on Twitter," said Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News in a clip posted online on Wednesday. "I firmly believe that Facebook should not be the arbiter of the truth of everything people say online."

Hours later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeared to object to the statement, saying that labeling tweets with fact checking does not make the social media company an "arbiter of truth".

"Our intention is to connect the points of conflicting statements and to show the information in dispute so that people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is essential so that people can see clearly why our actions are." Dorsey tweeted Wednesday night.

Others were even more direct. On a series of tweets on Wednesday, former Twitter executive Jason Goldman called Zuckerberg's statement to Fox News a "bad quote" and added: "Going to Fox to hit Twitter in defense of Trump is really a gamble. Looking good for everyone involved ".

The public clashes between the two companies left aside the unified front that the technology industry had previously tried to present in the way it handles the wrong information. The Trump tweets in question falsely claimed that the California governor was mailing ballots to "anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there." Twitter tagged them with a message urging users to "Get the ballot facts by mail". Twitter message directly linked to a curated fact verification page filled with journalists and summaries of news articles unmasking the claim.

Facebook chose not to do anything, despite identical posts appearing on the platform. The company had previously said that politicians are exempt from its third-party fact-checking program.

Combative rhetoric also suggests how high the risk is for each company, as Trump increases his threats.

The executive order project being prepared by the Trump administration seeks to reduce the power of major social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, trying to reinterpret a critical 1996 law that protects websites and technology companies from lawsuits.

In previous tweets, after Twitter added the fact-checking label, Trump threatened to "regulate" or even "close" social media platforms.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made a distinction between Facebook and Twitter in an appearance on Fox News on Thursday. "There are two models here," she said. "You have Facebook, Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg, who says it's not my job to be the arbiter of the truth."

This week is not the first time that Zuckerberg and Dorsey are at odds over how to deal with political discourse on their respective platforms. Dorsey announced last October that Twitter would stop showing political ads. His announcement came after Zuckerberg publicly defended Facebook, not only allowing political ads, but allowing politicians to lie in those ads.

In his Wednesday tweets, Dorsey said he takes ultimate responsibility for the decisions made by Twitter and asked people to "leave our employees out of it". (On the previous Wednesday, Trump's two oldest children and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway pointed to the tweets made by Twitter official Yoel Roth in 2016 and 2017 as evidence of Twitter's alleged bias against the president.)

"Finally, there is someone responsible for our actions as a company, and it's me," said Dorsey.

At this point, at least, Dorsey and Zuckerberg seem to agree. "I started Facebook," Zuckerberg told the Senate in 2018, "I run it and I am responsible for what happens here."

This does not make us an "arbiter of the truth". Our intention is to connect the points of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so that people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is essential so that people can see clearly why our actions are taking place.

– Jack (@jack) May 28, 2020

This is such a bad quote from Zuck. No one is saying fact to check * everyone * at everything everywhere. He's a ridiculous straw man. Especially since the FB already has a policy of disinformation! pic.twitter.com/IEtzTuXhcK

– Jason Goldman (@goldman) May 28, 2020

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