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In the wake of the deadly attack on Congress last week, social media companies have taken major steps to root out activity on their platforms that promotes violent extremism.
The most dramatic actions were aimed at President Trump. On Thursday, Facebook banned him from posting until at least the end of his term. The next day, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account after he tweeted messages that the company said were “likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts” at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Prior to the bans, the social networks had been taking increasingly aggressive steps to moderate the president's posts, including attaching labels to posts that contained misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and the election.
In response to the Capitol riot, social media companies have also announced stricter measures to combat the spread of misinformation that may incite further violence. Facebook has targeted for removal posts that allege that the election was stolen. Twitter has purged more than 70,000 accounts that promote dangerous QAnon conspiracy theories. In related moves, Google, Apple and Amazon each ended their relationships with Parler — a fast-growing social media network popular with conservatives — because of rampant extremist content on its platform.
Why there’s debate
Trump’s critics have commended Facebook and Twitter for banning him. The president’s behavior on social media — particularly on Twitter — has posed a danger to the country throughout his presidency, they argue. Many of Trump’s detractors have lamented that the social networks didn’t remove Trump sooner. Others who were previously hesitant to call for censorship of the president say it was the right move to ban him in this situation, given the direct connection between his rhetoric and the attack on the Capitol.
The decisions to ban Trump sparked outrage among his conservative allies, who argue that the moves were part of a larger campaign on social media to silence conservative speech. Even some of Trump’s opponents expressed concern about the bans, since they provide an example of the extraordinary power that private companies like Facebook and Twitter have to control speech.
Others argue that Facebook and Twitter were merely acting out of their own business interests, rather than any true sense of what’s best for the country. With so few days left in his presidency and public outrage about his behavior escalating, social networks moved to ban Trump only when allowing him to stay would threaten their bottom line, some argue. Others say getting rid of Trump will do little to root out the cesspool of hate and extremism that has grown on social media over the past few years.
It’s unclear whether Facebook intends to restore Trump’s ability to post after he leaves office. In response to increased scrutiny from the major social media platforms, some pro-Trump extremists have reportedly begun using encrypted apps like Telegram to post calls for further violence before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Banning Trump was the right decision
“There will be a time for thoughtful debate on these companies' power to monitor the flow of information. That time is not this week. Having just endured a violent attempt to destroy the electoral process at Trump's urging, American democracy is now in Code Red. We're in a national emergency demanding an emergency response.” — Froma Harrop, Newsweek
A handful of private companies shouldn’t have the power to control speech
“People on all sides of the political spectrum should be alarmed instead of cheering Big Tech on. If the social media giants can block a Republican president from their platforms, they can also block Democratic elected officials and far-left groups.” — Patrice Lee Onwuka, Fox News
The violence at the Capitol could have been prevented if Trump had been banned sooner
“The first few times he shared mistruths or used abusive language, his posts should have been immediately removed and he should have been issued warnings. If he then continued to share misinformation or hate, his accounts should have been permanently suspended. If this had happened, our Capitol might never have come under siege.” — Kara Alaimo, CNN
Banning Trump doesn’t solve the root problems of social media
“No one should think deplatforming President Donald Trump solves the problems created and spread by the way this country engages with itself on social media.” — Editorial, Dallas Morning News
Social media censorship represents a threat to free speech rights
“Once dominant corporate and cultural elites — in this case, a group of Big Tech CEOs and employees who are highly susceptible to political pressure — collude to decide how people are allowed to interact, they engage, functionally, in censorship. And once we normalize the idea that corporations have an extrajudicial duty to limit speech in the name of ‘safety’ — a rationalization as old as censorship itself — the spirit of the First Amendment is being corroded.” — David Harsanyi, National Review
Even when they wield it correctly, Big Tech companies have too much power
“I find myself both agreeing with how technology giants have used their power in this case, and disturbed by just how awesome their power is. Trump deserved to be deplatformed. … But it’s dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not.” — Michelle Goldberg, New York Times
Social media companies are forced to react because all other guardrails have failed
“At the bottom of it all is the sense that tech companies are leading our response to last week’s horror when it would be better led by elected officials, law enforcement, or even (God help us) the media. Tech companies would certainly agree with this. Facebook and Amazon never set out to be the least-craven institutions in US political discourse, and the moment someone else arrives to take that mantle, they will be thrilled to hand it off.” — Russell Brandom, Verge
Extremism will thrive on social media as long as it’s profitable
“[The] ecosystem of disinformation, extremism, rage and bigotry won’t go away by banning Trump or his supporters. That’s because the driving force behind it is profit: Facebook and Google make billions by fostering it.” — Matt Stoller and Sarah Miller, Guardian
World leaders shouldn’t be given leeway that typical users don’t have
“World leaders should be held to the same rules as everyone else; otherwise, social networks are giving those politicians a means to communicate which is less transparent and public than the powerful soapboxes that come with their offices.” — John Healey, Los Angeles Times
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