Sep 4, 2018 - Technology

Twitter’s insane mind-control power

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Facebook might have more people more connected for more hours than any company in human history. But it’s Twitter, with a fraction of the users, that controls what the media and much of America think about, talk about — and try to censor. 

The big picture: Twitter’s awesome power was on full display on Labor Day as The New Yorker, which had proudly announced Steve Bannon as a headliner at the annual New Yorker Festival, promptly retreated when liberals on Twitter revolted, including other festival speakers who vowed to withdraw.

  • New Yorker Editor David Remnick said in an 800-word note to his staff: "I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns. ... I’ve changed my mind. There is a better way to do this."
  • "If the opportunity presents itself," Remnick continued, "I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage."
  • Bannon crowed: "In what I would call a defining moment, David Remnick showed he was gutless when confronted by the howling online mob."
  • Bannon added: "Progressives are triggered like never before."

This was simply the latest example of activists demanding — and getting — swift action against the media, companies and platforms:

  • In May, Roseanne Barr, after blaming "ambien tweeting" for racist tweets, faced an instant backlash on the same platform, losing advertisers — and, soon after, her ABC show. 
  • In April, The Atlantic — after defending the hire for two painful weeks — axed conservative writer Kevin Williamson, whose writing on abortion and some 2014 tweets provoked a Twitter backlash.
  • In March, at least eight advertisers fled Laura Ingraham's Fox News show in response to a boycott drive by Parkland survivor David Hogg after she mocked him on Twitter.
  • In 2016, Kellogg's and other companies stop advertising on Breitbart after a campaign on Twitter. 

The New Yorker fracas unfolded after Trump used Twitter to own the holiday conversation by bashing the "Rigged Witch Hunt," John Kerry, Richard Trumka, and his own Justice Department for indicting sleazy congressmen for disqualifying behavior. 

  • Why it matters ... Twitter is the arena of extremes: Trump can light a half dozen fires a day, the media endlessly covers the bonfire of the vulgarities, and Democrats rise in synchronized protest to punish those who feed off Trump’s arsonist ways. 

Be smart: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey are walking into a political firestorm on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

  • Republicans are increasingly united in combating what they see as censorship of conservatism, as much as they are focused on election and data manipulation. This week will be epic. 
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