Twitter’s Nuclear Option


If Twitter’s countermeasures fail in the run up to the mid-term election, they should prepare a nuclear option.

Russian intelligence distorted the democratic process of the 2016 Presidential Election by manipulating social media, and perhaps more. A tech backlash is in full swing, where the power of unintended and intended (ads) consequences wielded by platforms will be curbed. The management of these platforms has failed to self-regulate to date.

Twitter’s countermeasures have reduced the number of bot fakesters, and it does feel like there is less toxicity in the personalized feed. But in this information war there will always be new attack vectors on the attention and divisive outrage of the electorate. The same hacks are already happening to ready disinformation dumps.

In the weeks heading into the 2018 midterm election, if the countermeasures fail, Twitter should have contingency plans to do no (more) harm.

Twitter’s Nuclear Option

Essentially, the Nuclear Option includes tactics that limit the ability for disinformation from 3rd parties to effect user attention. It may even mean going back to 2006 Twittr for a moment, as the tactics are all disabling virality, engagement and monetization features:

  • Disable all ReTweets to limit the spread of misleading information (WhatsApp recently limited the amount of times a message can be forwarded in India. Because, lynching.).
  • Disable Replies and Comment Threads to limit disinformation.
  • Make the feed flat. If the feed isn’t filtering things out correctly, go back to the original unfiltered flat feed.
  • Aggressively suspend even the most powerful accounts that break the ToS
  • Disable all Ads

Twitter management at least needs to have this conversation: how far are we willing to go to protect democracy? What actions are acceptable for what timeframe (e.g. election week).

The intersection of technology and liberal arts has been more of a thoroughfare for tech disruption. Social media isn’t a communication tool served by common carriers, it is a powerful media with a political economy. The platforms that take this great responsibility will be the ones that last.

Image credits: David Parkins for The Economist and the international New York Times

One thought on “Twitter’s Nuclear Option”

  1. What is meant by “willing to go to protect democracy”? What’s to protect? The U.S. is a republic, and the concept of ‘majority rules’ under democracy is subject to changes in group opinion.

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