Last month, the president of the United States got into a fight with his favorite social media platform. The fallout could have consequences for social media marketing. After Donald Trump made a spurious claim about mail-in voting being prone to fraud, Twitter moved to fact-check it by providing a link underneath the post. Trump responded with a threat of regulation, then followed up with an executive order removes legal protections for websites that publish un-curated user content.
The order is sure to face legal challenges. The outcome of those legal challenges are sure to affect the extent of this dispute’s impact on social media marketing. But at least in the short term, the impact could be significant enough to spark necessary conversations between website owners and their social media marketing teams.
Although there are other aspects to the executive order, the part that seems to be getting the most attention is its reversal of a provision in the Communications Decency Act of 1996. That act, created during the internet’s infancy, helped to establish the “open forum” mentality that governs so many social media platforms today. If the relevant provision ceases to be enforced, companies like Twitter could face lawsuits over content that is deemed libelous or that violates the platform’s own terms of service.
Strangely, this could have consequences for the president’s own account, not to mention a wide range of individual users and social media marketing firms. Trump has been repeatedly accused of violating Twitters terms of service while facing no consequences. In fact, one Twitter user recently conducted an informal experiment by starting an account that simply re-posted Trump’s tweets word-for-word. It was banned in a matter of days.
If Trump’s executive order is intended to make Twitter even more concerned about ToS violations, it raises serious questions about his strategy. But it could be that his intention is just to make that platform, and social media in general, a more tightly controlled social environment. Whether he is successful or not, social media marketing strategies will probably have to adapt to a new normal. On one hand, they may face greater vigilance from the platforms they utilize. And on the other hand, they may have to dodge scrutiny from people who latch onto the political debates that are now infecting all aspects of social media.
Ideally, vigilance won’t pose too much of a problem. Any given social media marketing company should be familiar with platforms’ ToS, regardless of how strictly they are enforced. An ethical marketing strategy is unlikely to violate those terms, least of all in a way that could actually open up the account or the platform to a serious lawsuit.
Nevertheless, social media marketing would become more difficult and more stressful for all parties involved if platforms like Twitter adopted a “one strike and you’re out” policy. It would compel advertisers to avoid not only outright violations, but also anything that skirts the edges of a platform’s rules. This could include something as simple as a questionable product claim – something that no one would realistically consider a ban-able offense under normal circumstances.
In other words, new restrictions on certain platforms could impede the creativity of social media marketing campaigns. This isn’t to say that creativity would normally violate the law or a platform’s ToS. It is just to say that experimentation is a key factor in finding out what works best. And tight regulations are the enemy of experimentation.
The same can be said of reflexive controversy. If debates over the president’s executive order turn Twitter into even more of a battleground than it already is, it may become difficult to post anything without facing the risk of angry dialogue in the replies. But if this effect is limited to Twitter, it might only prompt social media marketing companies to re-allocate their resources, since that kind of unpleasantness would probably send some users to other platforms.
There’s a good chance that this is already happening in some circles. The video sharing platform TikTok was once on the fringes of social media, with a user base that was overwhelmingly dominated by children and teenagers. But recent press attention has pointed to it as a potential escape for those who are looking for a more casual and purely enjoyable social media experience. If people take advantage of that potential, it will naturally open up new possibilities for social media marketing.
Of course, TikTok won’t remain immune to political controversy. Neither will it be immune to the president’s executive order if it remains in force. But this just goes to show that the rules, content, and user base of every platform change over time, and social media marketing strategies must change along with it. So it’s important to pay attention to trends both in the industry and in relevant political dialogue. You can’t stop the negative effects of either, but you can plan to take advantage of the new opportunities.