Is Twitter’s ‘Hide Replies’ Feature Fueling Fake News And Disinformation?

Published on October 4, 2019

Mr. President is going to love this one. A new feature from twitter has been quietly rolling out over the last month that lets users hide replies to their tweets. The feature aims to help users prevent spam that shows up in their replies and creates a distraction from the original message, but works in the same way as Instagram’s “turn off commenting for this post” feature operates. Popular with celebrities, it allows users to censor responses to their content on the social media platform, which comes in handy for potentially controversial content. On Twitter, a tool like this could help prevent heated debates and the presence of hateful comments on the platform, as any Twitter user is aware that the comment section is often the dark underbelly of the website.

Incentive to hide comments is strong, as many users experience online harassment and bullying in the response section of their tweets. However, censorship of content on Twitter is a double-edged sword, as it opens the floodgates for people to hide criticism of their statements. In many cases, it could even allow disinformation and fake news to go viral with little room for accountability. A Tweet making outrageous claims is often quickly defunct in the comments section, but without the safety net of the comments section, the content could spread like rapid fire, proving to be a breeding ground for disinformation campaigns and fake news.

Is CPS Trafficking Children?

cps trafficking children
A Twitter search for ‘CPS sex trafficking’ on Twitter yields dozens of results with little information to prove the claims.

A recent handful of tweets all using the same verbiage to spread a rumor that Child Protective Services (CPS) was exposed for child sex trafficking has circulated the platform in recent weeks with little to back up the claims. Many of the tweets making the claim have disabled replies, but a quick Google search yields little evidence to prove that the organization has been exposed of any major crime. The closest thing to come up in a Google search points to a 2018 op-ed posted in a parenting journal that links to another op-ed from Newsweek that questions whether Child Protective Services is doing enough to combat and prevent children in foster care from falling victim to trafficking. Another article, published in The Guardian in September 2019 discusses a UK story about victims of child trafficking being persecuted despite the presence of a law created by the Crown Protective Service (CPS) to legally protect children that commit crimes involved in trafficking rings.

A September 2019 article published by The Free Thought Project is often tied to tweets about the subject, but a simple Google search about the media platform’s validity reveals that The Free Thought Project has long been considered a source of conspiracy news and been accused of fear-mongering in content designed to go viral, despite having little evidence to prove its claims. Another article circulating Twitter on the subject was published by a known pseudo-science website, Medical (which is owned by Health Impact Now, a website revealed to be fueling anti-vaccination propaganda that gets much of its revenue from advertising products that make outrageous health claims or books about what to do in an impending catastrophe.


Twitter Has Long Been Criticized For Its Complacency

While Twitter’s ‘hide replies’ feature is hardly the cause of a strange disinformation campaign aimed at CPS, it goes to show that censorship on the platform can be used to fuel the spread of fake news. Twitter has long been criticized for its complacency over harassment and harmful content on its user-based social media platform. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of the company, became the subject of controversy after protesters projected the phrase “@jack is #complicit” on the side of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. The act of protest was in response to Twitter’s lack of intervention when President Trump used the platform to fuel tensions between the United States and North Korea.

More recently, the company revealed that it will not use artificial intelligence to crack down on the presence of white supremacy on the platform. The company revealed that a test of an algorithm that would do such a job ended up barring many GOP politicians as well because it could not tell the difference between Neo-Nazi propaganda and a tweet from our actual politicians. You know, like how Tumblr’s similar bot has a hard time telling porn apart from art, but in a much more political way.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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