Just a few weeks ago, Twitter announced that President Trump, one of the platform’s most prolific users, could no longer tweet without policing. It was past time to fact-check his tweets, said the company, given their potential for real-life damage.
“We now have the tools in place to label content that may contain misleading claims that could cause offline harm,” Twitter spokesperson Katie Rosborough told Politico.
But if you’re going to anonymously accuse random celebrities of rape with little to no evidence, Twitter says: Have at it.
Those tweets are usually pushed further along by the swift tail winds of #MeToo, which is predicated on the need to “believe all women.”
It’s no longer considered fair or fashionable to pause for a moment and wonder how likely it is, really, that a coven of sexual predators are masquerading as CW stars, akin to the satanists of “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Over the weekend, three users identified as Victoria, Tasha and Allison tweeted individual claims of sexual assault against “Riverdale” stars Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, KJ Apa and Vanessa Morgan. Guess what. It didn’t take long for an online sleuth to determine that Victoria, Tasha and Allison all shared the same IP address and all lived in the same location in Kansas.
Why couldn’t Twitter do the same? Where are those “tools in place” to “prevent off-line harm”?
On Saturday night, someone identifying themselves only as Danielle — and think about it, “Danielle” could be a 40-year-old man or a rival pop star or a bot — took to Twitter with a claim that Bieber sexually assaulted her on March 9, 2014, at the Four Seasons in Austin, Texas.
Within 48 hours, Bieber brought the receipts, literally.
“Rumors are rumors,” Bieber tweeted, “but sexual abuse is something I don’t take lightly. I wanted to speak out right away, but out of respect to so many victims who deal with these issues daily I wanted to make sure I gathered the facts before I made any statement.”
Those facts included contemporaneous news reports of Bieber’s whereabouts in Austin — he was there for the high-profile South by Southwest festival — plus time-stamped photos of himself with then-girlfriend Selena Gomez; receipts proving he and his entourage stayed at an Airbnb and then the Westin Hotel, not the Four Seasons; and a confirmation from the Four Seasons regional manager that Bieber never set foot on the property on the dates in question.
“I welcome all press to inquire with them if needed or wanted,” he tweeted.
“Danielle” took down her tweets and vanished into the digital netherworld.
It was particularly bracing to see the real-time response of Bieber and his team, as if they knew such an accusation was only a matter of time. I say that not to imply anything nefarious — only to acknowledge that right now, we are in the throes of a cultural, sociological and tech-driven revolution that can ruin people with a keystroke. “Going viral” is almost always considered a good thing, but think about its etymology: viruses, viral loads, virulence — toxicity, degradation, lethality.
Bieber knew that an accusation like this, even an anonymous one, even with no credible evidence, can spread through the Twitterverse like wildfire and damage him permanently.
Why is it that a 26-year-old pop star gets this but a global Big Tech company doesn’t? Does Jack Dorsey really expect us to believe that Twitter can’t do better?
Elgort’s case isn’t as black-and-white but should alarm us. Again, we have a user going only by a first name, Gabby, taking to Twitter and accusing Elgort of . . . really, it’s unclear. She says they met when she was 17 and “he was in his 20s” and that he took her virginity.
“Instead of asking me if I wanted to stop having sex knowing it was my first time and I was sobbing in pain and I didn’t want to do it the only words that came out of his mouth were ‘We need to break you in.’ ”
Gabby doesn’t say that she ever told Elgort to stop, though, and that’s important. For his part, Elgort maintains that the relationship with Gabby was consensual but says he treated her poorly.
“I stopped responding to her, which is an immature and cruel thing to do,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “I cannot claim to understand Gabby’s feelings, but her description of events is simply not what happened. I have never and would never assault anyone.”
Gabby has since deleted her tweets.
There’s a reason so many of these flimsy rape and sexual assault accusations materialize on Twitter — no legitimate news outlet would ever publish them. Big Tech knows this. They have abdicated their responsibility for far too long, putting profits over human cost.
In announcing their fact-check of Trump, Twitter said it was COVID-19 that did it. But false and unsupported accusations of rape are another terrifying virus — one that Big Tech can, and should, work to cure.