USA

Trump's ridiculous comparison to justify his social media crackdown

"Imagine if your local phone companies tried to edit or censor what you said. Social media companies have far more power," Trump said.

Think about it for one second and, maybe, the comparison makes some sense. Think about it any longer and you can immediately see this isn't even an apples-and-oranges comparison. It's more like an apples-and-spaceships comparison. Because the comparison makes absolutely no sense.

To explain exactly how and why, let's take Trump up on his premise. Let's say that a local telecommunications company did censor or edit a conversation you were having over the phone with a friend. What that would mean is that your friend would not get the exact message you were seeking to send. They would get some sort of altered message.

That's bad! We can all agree on that! If I want to call my wife and tell her I love her and the phone company turns "I love you" into "I like you," well, I might have a problem!

Like I said, the Trump comparison makes sense -- for like one second.

But now let's assume the opposite. The phone company does NOT edit or censor what you say. And what you say is something like: "Did you know that wearing a mask actually makes you more likely to get coronavirus?"

That is, of course, not true. But by not censoring your phone call, the only person you spread that false information to was the person the other end of the line. Now, could that person then go and tell five more people about how wearing a mask actually increases your chances of getting Covid-19? Yes! Of course. And if they were very diligent and spent a LOT of time on the phone over the next few days, they might could even spread that falsehood to 200 people. (Like I said, you'd have to spent a lot of time on the phone.)

Now imagine that the same person who made the initial phone call to one other person instead decided to tweet out that falsehood about masks. And that person happened to have, say, 80.4 million Twitter followers. Or even 80,000. Or even 8,000.

With the push of a button -- literally! -- that single person could spread the untruth about masks to 8,000 or 80,000 or even 80 million people. And then those people could retweet the falsehood to their dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions of followers. Within five minutes (or less), a single person tweeting out a falsehood could virtually ensure that the falsehood had been seen by hundreds of millions of people.

Do you have any idea how long it would take you to call 100 million people and tell them a single falsehood? A looooooooooot longer than five minutes.

See? The comparison makes no sense.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like are public platforms. Anyone who wants to follow, say, Lady Gaga or me -- very similar! -- on Instagram can do it. A phone call (or phone company) is a private platform. I can't sign on to listen to your call -- or you mine -- just because I want to.

The reach and immediacy of social media platforms then makes them different than a phone company. A lot different. And so, what works to regulate a phone call is not the same thing that works to regulate a tweet.

If someone like Trump is allowed to tweet things that are demonstrably untrue without any pushback from any social media platform, he can erode the very concept of truth in American society without anything more than a few taps on his phone. Try doing that on a phone call.

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