After spending most of last week fielding criticism for its decision not to ban conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Twitter is now reportedly planning a “charm offensive” geared toward conservatives.
According to Fox Business, Twitter is increasingly worried about right-wing complaints of bias on its platform — especially since July’s false allegations that conservatives were being “shadow banned” on the site. In response, the company reportedly plans to meet with a wide variety of conservatives in order to convince them not to abandon the platform.
“They are meeting with conservative media types… They are meeting with GOP lawmakers,” said Fox Business’ Charlie Gasparino on Monday. “They are trying to tell the conservative pundit base that Twitter is not anti-conservative, that the steps they take, they take it equally, and they value conservative thought on the medium.”
To further cement his conservative credentials, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — who is notoriously difficult to get an interview with — did a radio interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week. In the interview, Dorsey maintained that his site would never “shadow ban” someone based on their political ideology.
SCOOP: @Twitter launches charm offensive w Conservatives amid criticism of bias execs meeting Conservative politicians/media people amid bias complaints—sources. Twitter worried about business impact of Conservative’s fleeing Twitter amid declining US users more now @FoxBusiness
— Charles Gasparino (@CGasparino) August 13, 2018
Twitter’s reported “charm offensive” echoes a similar strategy deployed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in 2016. After Gizmodo reported that conservative news sources were regularly demoted on Facebook, Zuckerberg met with a variety of conservative leaders and media figures, including Glenn Beck and Dana Perino, to reassure them that they’d have a voice on Facebook.
But Facebook at the time hadn’t decided to be the only major online platform to still lend a voice to an unhinged conspiracy theorist, which is the approach Twitter seems to be taking with Alex Jones. Jones’ Infowars channel was banned by Facebook, Apple, Spotify, and YouTube last week for violating hate content policies. On Monday, Jones was also banned from the video-hosting service Vimeo.
— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) August 13, 2018
But despite CNN finding more than a dozen instances of Infowars accounts violating Twitter’s rules prohibiting hateful content — like baseless accusations about the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings and targeted harassment aimed at media figures — Twitter allowed both Jones and Infowars to keep their accounts. The reason, Twitter explained, was because the flagged tweets were published before the company implemented stricter community standards.
In response, however, many Twitter users are trying to protest by blocking the website’s advertisers, which they hope will pressure Dorsey into finally removing Jones from the platform.
Good morning! To encourage Twitter to drop Alex Jones, I just blocked the Twitter accounts of every Fortune 500 company w/ a Twitter presence. Ready to mass block Twitter's most lucrative advertisers with me? There are three quick & easy ways. Instructions are in this thread.
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) August 12, 2018
The protest, started by activists Shannon Coulter and Jeff Reifman, encourages users to block the accounts of every Fortune 500 company that has a presence on Twitter. The online effort, with the hashtag #BlockParty500, hopes to hit Twitter where it hurts most: advertising revenue. If the company eventually decides to boot Jones, activists say all the companies will be unblocked automatically.
Prioritizing outreach to right-wing figures, while at the same time granting a platform to a man who wants to publicly divulge the personal information of the parents of a Sandy Hook massacre victim, is the latest in Twitter’s continued flip-flopping over what makes an account subject to suspension. The company has cracked down on some white nationalists using the site, but the refusal to deplatform Jones shows that Twitter still hasn’t developed a clear, understandable set of guidelines for policing content on its site.