Twitter outage leaves users with questions about platform and misinformation regulation

USC students and professors reflect on the power of social media and the spread of misinformation after yesterday’s system error.

Twitter experienced an outage Thursday, leaving users across the globe -- including those at USC -- unable to tweet or refresh their timelines for over an hour.

Twitter’s support account assured users that it was only trouble with their internal systems and not a security hack. DownDetector, a website that monitors real-time outages, estimated that 59,082 Twitter users in the US did not have access to the app for around two hours.

The outage occurred one day after the company restricted users from sharing an unsubstantiated New York Post article on alleged emails between Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, and an executive of a Ukrainian energy company.

In a response to the outage, President Trump retweeted an article about the situation, alleging that Twitter shut down to prevent the spread of negative news about Biden. Twitter has not directly responded to this statement.

“We’re seeing the platform really struggle with how they’re going to handle misinformation,” said Adriana Lacy, a senior associate for audience and growth at Axios and adjunct professor of journalism at USC. “How do we make sure that truth is being told on these platforms, and how do we make sure that the integrity of elections and truth is always prevailing?”

Sarah Goldman, a sophomore majoring in American studies and ethnicity, echoed the concern about misinformation. While Twitter isn’t her main source of news, she does still refer to the platform for additional information.

“After I read news and articles on my own, I like [the explore page] because the news [there] comes with people’s reactions at the bottom,” Goldman said. “There’s a thread of tweets from random people, which I think is interesting because it’s the story, and it’s seeing other people’s reactions.”

In a tweet Friday, the platform announced that beginning that day, users who attempt to retweet or quote tweet a tweet that “breaks [Twitter’s] misleading information rules” will be prompted to learn more about the material before sharing it.

Even before this announcement, Lacy emphasized the importance of students and Twitter users being wary of information on the app.

“There’s not a lot of fact checking that’s done on these platforms,” she said. “There’s no longer just cable news or newspapers to get your news from, and while it’s great that social media has become a lot more accessible to a lot more people, it also means there’s a lot more misinformation.”

This rise in the prominence of misinformation has made it difficult for some to determine what sources to believe.

“People trust everything that is said on Instagram and Twitter as the news, which I don’t think can always be good,” Goldman said. “There’s also another side of that because right now, with GenZ, that is what’s getting them to participate, so there’s definitely good and bad ways to look at it.”

For Lacy, the outage represented a chance to take a step back from social media, and any of the complicated issues or false information that may go along with it.

“We’ve become so reliant on these platforms,” she said. “So I think it’s kind of nice when they go down because it’s a nice break to really just sit back and realize how addicted we are to these platforms, and what we do when we don’t have social media.”