Saturday, May 28, 2022

Are social networks to blame?

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Yesterday was a dark day in American history as pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol on what they believed to be a stolen election. And, true to form, social media services struggled to deal with the president’s comments.

After angry mobsters smashed windows, invaded Capitol buildings, and in some cases brawled with police, Trump took to social media. In a one-minute video that quickly went viral Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, he told the rioters to “go home in peace.” But he also repeated a baseless claim that he had been promoted on social media for weeks: the election was “fraudulent.”

“The president is a master at encoding things that get his central message out,” said Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor who studies social media at Syracuse University. “Basically, this message is yet another incentive” for the “same people who would storm the Capitol”.

Social media services have grappled with Trump’s tweets since he was elected in 2016. They say their policies are aimed at balancing notoriety, public interest and free speech with the potential for real-world harm and dissemination of false information. But even with particularly high stakes on Wednesday, social media companies once again appeared to waver in their decisions.

Twitter tagged the tweet, claiming it contained “disputed allegations” about the election and informed users that they could not like or retweet it without including their own comments as it could prompt the election. violence. Facebook, for a long time, did nothing. But the social network ended up chose to delete the message saying it was an “emergency” and that the video contributes to the “risk of continued violence”. YouTube did the same after initially allowing the video. Hours later, Twitter also deleted the video and in an unprecedented move temporarily suspended Trump’s account, threat of permanent suspension for future violations.

But the video had already been seen and broadcast by hundreds of thousands of people, leaving many critics to criticize the companies for doing far too little too late. “It goes way beyond protecting public conversation and public discourse,” Grygiel said. “This is an active coup attempt in the United States”

One solution, according to Grygiel, is fairly straightforward: Social media companies should preview all posts from world leaders, posting them with a delay in order to prevent harmful content from appearing. But Grygiel doesn’t expect that to actually happen. “It is clear that the platforms find it difficult to endure this even during [an attempted] coup, ”Grygiel said, referring to the company’s delayed actions.

But photos and anecdotes from the interior of the rooms show lawmakers holding hands and in some cases praying as chaos ensued. Could they come back with a new fervor for regulating social media? We should have a better idea once the new administration takes office later this month.

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com



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