A convincing and polished, yet entirely fake, advertising campaign under the slogan, “Don’t Believe Every Tweet,” made the rounds early this morning, fooling tech critics and reporters into thinking Twitter had launched a marketing effort centered on its own inability to police fake and misleading information. The company confirmed to The Verge that it has nothing to do with the campaign.
The project includes a Twitter account, a YouTube video featuring comedian Greg Barris, and a website, complete with fake quotes from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and a pledge asking people to “be skeptical of all claims and never assume something is true just because it appears to reinforce views I already hold.”
It’s not clear what aspect of Twitter is the primary target here. “Don’t Believe Every Tweet” could be skewering the company itself for its ongoing moderation problem, which has been exacerbated in recent weeks by Dorsey’s shifting position on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars network.
Jones’ personal Twitter account was suspended last week for seven days over an apparent incitement to violence, following broader removals of Infowars across tech platforms like Apple, Facebook, and Spotify. Dorsey has since issued various mea culpas in interviews and public statements, claiming to acknowledge the issue of fake information on Twitter and pledging to rethink the company’s core values as they pertain to the struggle to balance free speech with the harm of inaccurate information. Jones is currently being sued by the families of nine Sandy Hook shooting victims, after Jones routinely perpetuated the conspiracy theory that the shooting was staged to undermine the Second Amendment.
Of course, “Don’t Believe Every Tweet” could be more benign, focusing only on gullibility and tribalism on the internet and the increasing divisiveness of social media. Even just the idea of using a fake ad campaign to trick people into believing a message about false representation is clever in and of itself. The campaign did in fact fool some journalists, including even savvy reporters covering the alt-right and technology platform moderation:
the don't believe every tweet thing is fake. i'm sorry for tweeting about it. @jack please put me in an alex jones-esque time out— Joe Bernstein (@Bernstein) August 20, 2018
Although if you examine the full fake statement from Dorsey more closely, it does tend to fall apart by the end:
Twitter is an amazing platform for communication that has literally changed the world. But in order for it to work right, people can’t get sucked into all the fake news and conspiracy theories so many of our users (especially Russian bots) post.
That’s why we’re very excited to announce the launch of our new #dontbelieveeverytweet campaign. It’s a simple reminder to be skeptical of everything you see on Twitter because our users can put literally anything in a tweet.
We hope you’ll take the time to sign our pledge not to believe every tweet in your feed and share the #dontbelieveeverytweet commercials with your friends (on Twitter of course). We’re also going to start airing on FOX News in the next few days because duh.
If anything, hopefully the campaign is a gentle reminder that yes, people do lie on the internet, and yes, people do often amplify facts and opinions based on information or an eventual outcome that aligns with their beliefs. But “Don’t Believe Every Tweet” is also a good reminder that Twitter cannot absolve itself of responsibility to try to fix this problem, if only to make Twitter a safer and more productive place to communicate.