Lumping Twitter and Facebook together as “social media platforms” is not helpful in thinking about their role in US politics.

I was listening to a recent episode of the The New Yorker’s “Politics & More” podcast this morning in which host Dorothy Wickenden talks with staff writer Evan Osnos about how Twitter and Facebook are dealing (or not, as the case may be) with paid political ads and political disinformation ahead of the 2020 elections.

I generally like Osnos’s stuff, so I don’t want to pick on the guy, but it was a good example of a tendency I have noticed in discussions of Facebook and Twitter, which is to talk about them both as “social media,” and then to consider the impact of social media writ large on our politics.

Missing from this analysis are the different uses to which politicians and their foot-soldiers (especially on the right) put Twitter and Facebook, and the different audiences that the two companies represent. When Trump, his allies, and their hordes of pundits—both official and amateur—take to Twitter, they are primarily speaking to the media. Journalists and TV news types tend to be over-represented on Twitter, and they use the service to try shape the narrative in the media.

Facebook, meanwhile, seems to be more a means of talking to the base, as well as for throwing up a ton of chaff and disinfo to muddy the public discourse around the election, the candidates, and their policies.

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