men the 24 hours since the US Capitol in Washington was taken over by a Trump-supporting mob contesting the 2020 election results, US social media companies have banned the president from their Platforms for spreading falsehoods And incite the crowd.
Facebook, Snapchat, And Twitch suspended Donald Trump indefinitely. Twitter temporarily blocked his account. Several Platforms deleted their messages.
Those actions, coming just days before the end of Trump’s presidency, are too rare, too late, according to disinformation experts And civil rights experts who have long warned of rising misinformation And violent rhetoric from the right on social media sites And Trump’s role in fueling that.
” This was exactly what we expected,” said Brian Friedberg, a principal investigator for the Social Change And Technology Project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center who studies the emergence of movements like QAnon. “It is very consistent with how the union of different factions responsible for what happened yesterday has been operating online, And how previous attempts by Platforms to deal with them have fallen short.”
Over the past decade, tech Platforms have been reluctant to moderate Trump’s posts, even as he repeatedly violated regulations on hate speech. Before winning the presidency, Trump used Twitter to amplify his racist campaign by falsely claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. As president, he shared racist videos targeting Muslims on Twitter And posted them on Facebook in favor of banning Muslims from entering the United States, a clear violation of the platform’s anti-hate speech policies. He retweeted to his tens of millions of followers a video of one of his followers yelling “white power!” in June 2020. Encouraging violence against the Black Lives Matter protests appeared in a message shared on multiple Platforms that included the phrase “when the looting begins, the shooting begins.”
Trump’s lives And rhetoric found an enthusiastic audience online, one that will not disappear when his administration ends. Experts warn that the Platforms will continue to be used to organize And perpetuate violence. They point, for example, to the failure of Facebook And YouTube to curb the proliferation of dangerous conspiracy theory movements like QAnon, an unfounded belivef that a secret clique is controlling the government And trafficking children And that Trump is heroically stopping it. Parts of the crowd that stormed onto Capitol Hill Wednesday to ban certification of Trump’s election defeat donned QAnon-related merchAndise, including hats And T-shirts, And the action was discussed weeks in advance in many QAnon-related groups And forums. .
QAnon theories And communities have flourished on Facebook this year. By the time the company banned the non-QA topic groups, pages And accounts in October, hundreds of related pages And groups had amassed more than 3 million followers And members.
YouTube removed “tens of thousAnds of QAnon videos And canceled hundreds of channels” at the time of Facebook’s measures. It also updated its policy to target more conspiracy theory videos promoting violence in the real world, but still stopped short to directly ban content from QAnon. A YouTube spokesperson noted that the company has taken a number of other actions to address QAnon content, including adding information panels that share data about QAnon in videos since 2018.
Trump’s influence on social media to spread propagAnda has largely gone unchecked amid a vacuum in laws regulating government discourse on social media, said Jennifer M Gabriel, assistant professor of communication at Syracuse University. And expert in social networks.
Gabriel cited the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which regulates the distribution of government propagAnda, as an example of a law that limits government communication. But no such regulation exists for the president’s Twitter account, Gabriel said. Instead, we have relived on the assumption that the president would not use his social media account to incite an insurrection.
” What happened this week is the product of four years of systematic propagAnda since the presidency,” Gabriel said.
In the absence of meaningful regulation, tech companies have had little incentive to regulate their massively profitable Platforms, curb the spread of compromise-building falsehoods, And moderate the president.
That’s why experts say that things have to change. In 2020, Republicans And Democrats stepped up calls to regulate big tech. This week’s events underscore that big-tech reckoning must include measures aimed at addressing the risks posed by leaders who live And promote violence on their Platforms, some argue.
” The violence we are witnessing today in our nation’s capital is a direct response to the disinformation, conspiracy theories, And hate speech that has been allowed to spread on social media Platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.” said Jim Star, who runs the children’s nonprofit Common Sense Media And helped organize the Stop Hate for Profit campaign (with the ADL And several civil rights organizations), which asked advertisers to boycott Facebook over concerns about hate speech And cost Facebook millions.
” Social media Platforms must be held accountable for their complicity in destroying our democracy,” he added, arguing that in the absence of meaningful social media enforcement, Congress should pass better legislation to address hate speech on social media. Platforms.
Facebook And Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.
Gabriel said it was time to get away from the idea that a president should be tweeting. Adam Mosses, head of Facebook’s subsidiary Instagram, said on Twitter late Thursday that Facebook has long said it beliveves “regulation around harmful content would be a good thing.” He acknowledged that Facebook “cannot address harmful content without considering those in power as a potential source.”
Gabriel said: “We need a non-partisan job here. We need legislation to ensure that no future president can propagAnda to the American people in this way again. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism