It’s been seven days since Fox News stopped tweeting. On air, the stories continue unabated, and Facebook, posts continue to appear. It’s only the network’s Twitter account — where it has more than 18 million followers — that’s gone silent. About a day after Fox News went dark, reporters took notice and asked the obvious: why?
It’s an important question. Though Twitter doesn’t rake in traffic for news outlets like Google or Facebook do, the platform is still prioritized by reporters because it drives conversation elsewhere due to the large number of influential people who use the social network to consume news. It’s a distribution channel that matters. The answer to the question, according to many, can be found by way of an event that happened last Wednesday: a protest outside of Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s house in Washington, DC, and Twitter’s handling of a doxx.
“Multiple outlets reported over the weekend that [Fox News’] Twitter break was to protest the social media company’s slow response to requests to delete tweets that contained Carlson’s home address,” Variety reported earlier this week. The Verge reached out to Fox News for comment; while they said they weren’t speaking about the Twitter silence publicly, they didn’t refute the other news reports. The account that doxxed Carlson, Smash Racism DC, was eventually suspended. “Fox reportedly complained to Twitter about the account, but instead of immediately removing the inappropriate content, Twitter insisted Fox open a support ticket,” wrote The Daily Caller, the blog Tucker Carlson founded.
If Fox News is really boycotting Twitter because the social media site didn’t take down a doxx fast enough, that means the people who run the channel are getting the same treatment on Twitter that everyone else does. A common complaint among liberals on Twitter is that their accounts are locked and suspended more often and for more frivolous reasons than those of conservatives. Indeed, Twitter founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey has met privately with Trump aides and powerful Fox News personalities to assuage their fears that conservatives are being discriminated against on his platform. So even if their complaints have merit — which they probably do not, as Twitter is incredibly, publicly bad at following its own rules — their treatment is nothing out of the ordinary.
But assuming it is a protest, is it effective? If Fox News’s boycott is meant to punish Twitter, then absolutely not. While Dorsey’s actions do signal a willingness to listen to the political right — and it’s worth noting that he and his board have taken little to no action when it comes to many far-right accounts — there appears to be a limit to how much he’s willing to listen. On the other hand, the channel’s relatively mild protest is a success for its subscribers and viewers. It’s been an ongoing story in the conservative media ecosystem, and it appears to have riled up some supporters.
Perhaps the theater was the point. As Max Read pointed out recently in New York magazine’s Intelligencer, Twitter is only the latest company Fox has scolded. The company has an endless list of grievances and a long memory. Whatever the case, its boycott misunderstands the nature of internet protest. For normal internet users, there is a playbook for these things: make as much noise as you can on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram; consolidate your personal grievance into some semblance of a larger movement, like Gamergate; and target the people who are funding the corporation or entity that’s bothering you. For a media company, though, using this playbook would be unseemly. If Fox used its corporate might to actually attack Twitter for something this trivial and not, say, the prevalence of Nazis on its platform, it would be quite a bad look. Shouldn’t both parties have more important things to do?
Fox News knows this, which is why it’s aimed to lodge its complaint without much fanfare, and let the rest of the media tell Twitter why it is hurt. The network feels hurt, and it wants Twitter to acknowledge that it wronged Fox. It’s a war of passive-aggression, with reporters playing cat’s paws. And anyway, Twitter won’t apologize, at least not in public. That would look too biased.