Label wars is good for business

Facebook and Twitter exercise labeling at unprecedented level

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Two weeks after the US presidential election, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are still in the process of following up on it. Warning labels are still posted on messages and the temporary ban on advertising has been extended.

Many of these warnings can be found on president Trump’s Twitter account. He has still not admitted his loss and continues to claim fraud through social media, among other things.

The bosses on Facebook and Twitter had to testify in front of the U.S. Senate yesterday. They said they were proud of the work that was done around the elections, although they also recognised that more needs to be done. There was criticism from the Senators. For example, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein found that Twitter had done too little to label the company, where Republican senator Ted Cruz accused the company of acting as a publisher.

In the meantime, the question is whether the measures taken by the tech companies actually help. “Are the labels profit for democracy?”, the technology columnist of The Washington Post, Geoffrey Fowler, wonders. “They are a profit for the image of Twitter and Facebook, which seem just as observant enough not to be blamed again for screwing up an election,” he argues.

In a blog post last week, Twitter wrote that it issued a warning to 300,000 tweets; according to the company, this represents 0.2% of the total number of posts about the elections. A small part of the messages that received a warning – 456 – was also shielded. Twitter stopped shielding Trumps tweets after Biden was named the winner.

According to the company, messages with a label were shared less frequently, there was a 30 percent decrease. Three-quarters of the users only saw the messages after a warning was added.

According to information from BuzzFeed News, the coverage of posts with a Facebook warning only declined by 8 percent. A source in the social network says to the news site that given that every message from Trump is widely shared, such a decrease has little effect. More than 150 million reports received a warning label, according to Zuckerberg at the hearing yesterday.

The tech platforms use the same means – placing a warning-the implementation differs. For example, the Trump tweets that were shielded were not too retweeted (only with comments). Facebook has no restrictions on labelled messages; the platform places them by default. The messages will not be lower in the news review either.

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