Monday, January 18, 2021

The risk of future violence

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Tech companies are taking very different approaches to dealing with the threat of future violence following the riots on the U.S. Capitol last week.

On Wednesday, Airbnb announced that it was cancellation and blocking reservations in the Washington, DC area during the inauguration week of President-elect Joe Biden. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, tweeted the news saying the company will refund all cancellations and fully pay hosts for any lost reservations. Several Chesky followers praised Airbnb, calling the move “proactive” and “the right move.”

Meanwhile, at Reuters’ next virtual forum, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said he supports YouTube’s decision to temporarily suspend, rather than permanently banning President Donald Trump’s narrative. On Tuesday evening, YouTube deleted one of Trump’s videos for violating his policies and suspended the account from posting new videos for at least seven days. Trump will only be banned if he breaks YouTube policies three times in a 90-day period, YouTube told me earlier this week.

“There is a three-stroke process,” Pichai said Wednesday. “We do everything we can to be consistent, clear and transparent about how we [moderate content]. “

But Steve Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters, didn’t let Pichai go easily. “You do things after the fact,” he told the executive. “Is it a bit like having a smoke detector after the house is already on fire?”

And that’s the challenge many tech companies are currently facing: How proactive should tech companies be in taking action to prevent future violence?

Social media critics have long said that services like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube has been too slow to respond. Critics say the services allowed public figures like Trump to continually spew inflammatory comments under the guise of free speech, which ultimately resulted in real-world violence.

In the aftermath of the Capitol Riots, Facebook and Twitter cracked down on Trump, both banning Trump from their services “indefinitely” in hopes of preventing violence over the next two weeks. The decisions outraged Trump supporters, many of whom already believed social media services were unfairly censoring their views – a complaint which was echoed by Republicans during Wednesday’s impeachment hearing.

And Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey still appears to disagree over Trump’s ban. “We were faced with an extraordinary and untenable situation, forcing us to focus all our actions on public security”, he tweeted, defending the decision only to raise the issue in his next comment. “I think a ban is our ultimate failure to promote healthy conversation.”

If Dorsey’s comments tell us anything about the headspace of tech CEOs right now, it’s that they are having a hard time navigating this situation (if it wasn’t already obvious). And maybe, just maybe, it’s because they shouldn’t be the only ones responsible for making those decisions to begin with.

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com



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