Maureen Dowd: If Donald Trump no longer tweets, does he even exist?

US president trolls as Twitter and Facebook refine their algorithms to monetise rage

US president Donald Trump signed an executive order that might strip liability protection from social media sites. Photograph: Saul Martinez/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump signed an executive order that might strip liability protection from social media sites. Photograph: Saul Martinez/Getty Images

 

C’mon, @Jack. You can do it.

Throw on some Kendrick Lamar and get your head in the right space. Pour yourself a big old glass of salt juice. Draw an ice bath and fire up the cryotherapy pod and the infrared sauna. Then just pull the plug on him.

You know you want to. You could answer the existential question of whether @realDonaldTrump even exists if he doesn’t exist on Twitter. I tweet, therefore I am. Dorsey meets Descartes.

All it would take is one sweet click to force the greatest troll in the history of the internet to meet his maker. Maybe he just disappears in an orange cloud of smoke, screaming, “I’m melllllllting.”

Do Trump – and the world – a favour and send him back into the void whence he came. And then go have some fun: meditate and fast for days on end!

The United States is going through biological, economic and societal convulsions. We can’t trust the powerful forces in this nation to tell us the truth or do the right thing. In fact, not only can we not trust them, we have every reason to believe they’re gunning for us.

In Washington, the Trump administration’s deception about the virus was lethal. On Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, the fat cats who carved up the country, drained us dry and left us with no safety net profiteered off the virus. In Minneapolis, the barbaric death of George Floyd after a police officer knelt on him for almost nine minutes showed yet again that black Americans have everything to fear from some who are charged with protecting them.

As if that weren’t enough, from the slough of our despond, we have to watch Donald Trump duke it out with the lords of the cloud in a contest to see who can destroy our democracy faster.

I wish I could go along with those who say this dark period of American life will ultimately make us nicer and simpler and more contemplative. How can that happen when the whole culture has been re-engineered to put us at each other’s throats?

Tribal friction

Trump constantly torques up the tribal friction and cruelty, even as Twitter and Facebook refine their systems to ratchet up rage. It is amazing that a septuagenarian became the greatest exploiter of social media. Trump and Twitter were a match made in hell.

The Wall Street Journal had a chilling report a few days ago that Facebook’s own research in 2018 revealed that “our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness”. If left unchecked, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention and increase time on the platform”.

Mark Zuckerberg shelved the research. Why not just let all the bots trying to undermine our elections and spreading false information about the coronavirus and right-wing conspiracy theories and smear campaigns run amok? Sure, we’re weakening our society, but the weird, infantile maniacs running Silicon Valley must be allowed to rake in more billions and finish their mission of creating a giant cyberorganism of people, one huge and lucrative ball of rage.

“The shareholders of Facebook decided, ‘If you can increase my stock tenfold, we can put up with a lot of rage and hate,’” says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “These platforms have very dangerous profit motives. When you monetise rage at such an exponential rate, it’s bad for the world. These guys don’t look left or right; they just look down. They’re willing to promote white nationalism if there’s money in it. The rise of social media will be seen as directly correlating to the decline of western civilisation.”

Dorsey, who has more leeway because his stock isn’t as valuable as Facebook’s, made some mild moves against the president who has been spewing lies and inciting violence on Twitter for years. He added footnotes clarifying false Trump tweets about mail-in ballots and put a warning label on the president’s tweet about the Minneapolis riots that echoes the language of a Miami police chief in 1967 and segregationist George Wallace: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

“Jack is really sincerely trying to find something to make it better,” said one friend of the Twitter chief’s. “He’s like somebody trapped in a maze, going down every hallway and turning every corner.”

Zuckerberg, on the other hand, went on Fox to report that he was happy to continue enabling the Emperor of Chaos, noting that he did not think Facebook should be “the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online”.

It was a sickening display that made even some loyal Facebook staffers queasy. As The Verge’s Casey Newton reported, some employees objected to the company’s rationale in internal posts. “I have to say I am finding the contortions we have to go through incredibly hard to stomach,” one wrote. “All this points to a very high risk of a violent escalation and civil unrest in November, and if we fail the test case here, history will not judge us kindly.”

Executive order

Trump, furious that Dorsey would attempt to rein him in on the very platform that catapulted him into the White House, immediately decided to try to rein in Dorsey. He signed an executive order that might strip liability protection from social media sites, which would mean they would have to more assiduously police false and defamatory posts.

Now that social media sites are behemoths, Galloway thinks that the removal of the Communications Decency Act makes a lot of sense, even if the president is trying to do it for the wrong reasons.

Trump does not seem to realise, however, that he’s removing his own protection. He huffs and puffs about freedom of speech when he really wants the freedom to be vile. “It’s the mother of all cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face moves,” says Galloway.

The president wants to say things on Twitter that he will not be allowed to say if he exerts this control over Twitter. In a sense, it’s Trump versus his own brain. If Twitter can be sued for what people say on it, how can Trump continue to torment? Wouldn’t thousands of his own tweets have to be deleted?

“He’d be the equivalent of a slippery floor at a store that sells equipment for hip replacements,” says Galloway, who also posits that, in our hyperpoliticised world, this will turn Twitter into a Democratic site and Facebook into a Republican one.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose district encompasses Twitter, said that it did little good for Dorsey to put up a few fact-checks while letting Trump’s rants about murder and other “misrepresentations” stay up. “Facebook, all of them, they are all about making money,” the speaker said. “Their business model is to make money at the expense of the truth and the facts.”

She crisply concluded that “all they want is to not pay taxes; they got their tax break in 2017”, and “they don’t want to be regulated, so they pander to the White House”.

C’mon, Jack. Make @realDonaldTrump melt to help end our meltdown. – New York Times

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