August 17, 2018
Twitter Defending Stance on Jones
When a significant number or percentage of your customers make certain demands, how should a brand respond? That’s the question being answered all across social media these past few weeks. Many users want bad actors booted, but others say to do so would infringe on the free exchange of ideas upon which social media is ostensibly based.
Each of these sides has been busy building a narrative of layered messaging in support of their position. Now, when a company makes a related decision, they are linked with that entire apparatus of connected messages. It’s no longer an isolated incident, it’s being seen as taking a public stand on an issue. That may not be fair or even accurate, but that is the perception, and these companies need to craft their messaging with that in mind.
Enter the Alex Jones Ban. Several social media accounts blocked or banned the InfoWars host’s content on their platforms, sparking an endless debate among users on these platforms, most of which offered very little by way of explanation. The messaging attached to the decision was that Jones “violated the company’s terms of service.”
This argument was good enough for people who were happy to see him gone, but it didn’t wash for those who saw the axe as one that, one day, may be swung in their direction. Those in the latter group suddenly became big fans of Twitter, when CEO Jack Dorsey came out and offered his company’s rationale for not deleting Jones.
“We didn’t suspend InfoWars… We know that’s hard for many, but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified.”
Now, all things being equal, this criteria of “rules violations” might make for good boilerplate press releases, but most social media users believe there’s more to the story. And that’s where those pre-constructed layers of messaging come back into the picture.
As long as each company is giving a simple, pat answer to the question of “why” or “why not” those simple answers will be overshadowed by the presuppositions people already have. They either believe Jones was treated fairly or that he was not, that he violated free speech norms or not, and that he is either an extreme example of free speech or a danger to society.
Where an individual user lands on those perspectives will go a long way toward what they assume is the real cause of the actions taken by these social media companies. Going forward, if the companies take other action, it will be seen through these filters. That may not change their decisions, but that understanding should be factored into their communication going forward.
Dorsey seems to understand that baggage from previous messaging can influence people’s perception of what you do down the road. He addressed that in his recent statement, saying:
“Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that… If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction… That’s not us.”
In that statement, Twitter laid down a specific criteria for how to judge what they’re really all about, something the other companies have yet to accomplish. That may separate them, at least somewhat, from those layered assumptions that are coloring the public’s perceptions of these decisions.