Twitter’s New Rules to Defeat Fake News May Impact eCommerce Marketing

Social Media is under fire, much of it caused by the 2016 election when “Fake News” become the new buzzword. Dubious news, or even totally made up news, used to be the domain of the checkout lines tabloids.

Over the last few years, the proliferation of social media and the ability by small groups to set up automated retweet networks to spread “news” as quickly as possible on Twitter has turned social media into a colossal mess.

While it was already known that Facebook accepted political advertising from unknown sources that might have impacted the Presidential election in 2016, this week we learned that Cambridge Analytica, a communications and data firm that specializes in political campaigns used unauthorized methods to obtain user data on Facebook.

Facebook top brass seems to have been caught off-guard as crisis management experts are dumbfounded by the lack of a timely response by the social media network.

“This will go down as the textbook case study as how not to handle a crisis,” said Scott Galloway to AP, a New York University professor of marketing. “The only thing we know about this and are comfortable predicting is that it’s going to get worse.”

As lawmakers, social media firms, legitimate advertisers, and users mull over what to do about this meltdown in trust in social media, the issue is not just a news item anymore. It can now be found as a plot line in popular culture in entertainment TV shows and Movies.

The popular Showtime TV Series Homeland in its current season tackles the problem of Russians spreading fake news and memes via automated social media strategies.

The social media industry is trying to maintain its self-regulation princple, but events in the last few weeks may no longer make that an option.

showtime tv series homeland saul berenson learns about automated tweets
Source: Showtime, Homeland Season 7, Episode “Species Jump.” Saul Berenson played by Mandy Patinkin learns about how quickly a fake meme travels on an unnamed social media network. In this scene, he is told the red dots are the automated accounts and the green dots represent real people sharing the fake story.

Twitter Takes on Automated and Repetitive Tweets

Last month, Twitter announced they are going to restrict many of the activities that typically help fake news and memes spread like wildfire on the social media network.

The new rules will start on Friday, March 23, 2018, and Twitter hopes this will reduce the amount of fake or bad news without having to get into censorship issues.

However, many of the practices used by bad actors that may have influenced the U.S. election and that are causing this issue to come to the forefront are also used by marketers of legitimate services and websites.

Since Twitter is targeting excessive tweeting of the same or similar content, this means eCommerce marketers that use Twitter may have to change their strategy not to violate the new rules.

  • Posting duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts you control, or creating duplicate or substantially similar accounts, with or without the use of automation, is never allowed.
  • Posting multiple updates (on a single account or across multiple accounts you control) to a trending or popular topic (for instance, through the use of a specific hashtag) with an intent to subvert or manipulate the topic, or to artificially inflate the prominence of a hashtag or topic, is never allowed.

These two changes in rules on Twitter are almost like a nuclear option to try to restrain content from going viral.

Most Twitter strategies involved a shotgun approach as many marketers believe the average lifetime of a tweet is less than 30 minutes. That strategy appears dead now.

Twitter did not provide any real details on how it may catch offenders of its new rules. Presumably, there will be some automation in place to detect offenders.

Will offenders be warned or immediately shut down? WIll offenders have a method to appeal the process? Right now assume the worst as there is no real information on how Twitter plans to police these rules.

Social media managers like SocialPilot, Hootsuite, Buffer, etc. either have made or will be making changes to avoid abuse tweeting. This may include draconian methods to restrict tweeting of the same content on two different accounts (ie personal and business account).

Marketers may also have to look at the use of the same or similar hashtags to avoid their content from being flagged for being duplicates.

Twitter already checked that tweets from one account could not be the same exact tweet within a 24 hour period, and many social media management services circumvented this restriction by creating new short URLs for images or links in the tweets.

That may no longer be enough as Twitter now claims it no longer allows “substantially similar content” to be tweeted.

Caught in the Crossfire

Unfortunately, eCommerce marketing is caught in the crossfire. For small businesses it is vital they keep up with changes in social media policy to avoid being caught by new rules meant to minimize the spread of fake news.

It is also possible some eCommerce retailers will find a substantial reduction in their response to tweets as they may have attracted automated bots as followers. If these bot networks shut down, that will impact the reach of tweets.

And this will impact sellers in all countries, even if the main issue was mostly in the U.S.

Because of suspected out-of-country accounts being part of the problem, the only way social media companies can reduce this problem is to make it a blanket global policy.

Social Media marketing will not be dead, but it appears there will be drastic changes. Twitter seems to be the first one to take on the new reality starting on March 23.

Have you considered the impact on your marketing by these new rules from Twitter? Head over to our Facebook Discussion Group or use the comments section below.

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