Monday, May 23, 2022

Attack on Capitol Hill fuels social media backlash

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This is the web version ofTechnical sheet, a daily newsletter on the technology business. Sign up to receive it for free in your inbox.

The shockwaves of Wednesday’s attack on the U.S. Capitol continue to reverberate. And as Danielle explored in yesterday’s newsletter, the crisis is rocking social media and online, right where the attack took place. discussed and planned in advance, prompted at the time, and debated afterwards.

In the last 48 hours, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and Snap have all taken President Trump’s accounts offline. Shopify has removed pro-Trump stores and YouTube has removed and tagged specific videos. And while some services, including Twitter, reinstated Trump’s accounts soon after, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to keep Trump’s account closed for at least two weeks.

“The shocking events of the past 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time to undermine the peaceful and legal transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” the CEO written in a post Thursday. In the past, Facebook has allowed Trump to stay online “because we believe the public has the right to have the widest possible access to political discourse, however controversial,” he explained. “But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving the use of our platform to incite a violent insurgency against a democratically elected government.

Still, the crisis has hardly settled the debate over proper regulation or policing in social media going forward. And this is already triggering calls for stricter rules, whether imposed by the industry or by new legislation.

Senator Richard Blumenthal call for much stricter regulation of businesses. “They have caused lasting damage to their own credibility,” he told the Washington post, “And these events will renew and refocus the need for Congress to reform big tech.”

But former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos pushed back, arguing that There are no easy answers. “The platform’s political conversation which is primarily incubated here and which dominates political circles continues to be ominously morality and simplicity,” Stamos wrote on Twitter. “These problems relate to the incentives and structures of the traditional media environment, the simultaneous weakness and power of American political parties, and the really difficult issues of confidentiality and free association.

As Stamos implies, banning a figure from Twitter has little impact on mainstream media like cable TV or the rise of more online services like Parler. And that doesn’t stop allies and supporters who haven’t been banned from spreading the same messages.

“It’s kind of like playing whack-a-mole,” Mike Horner, director of the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech University, told Danielle yesterday. “You try to stop one complaint and another pops up. It’s really hard to stop.

Zuckerberg’s strong move against Trump may in part be an attempt to get ahead of the fierce political debate that is no doubt to come. The terms of this debate, as signals of change from Facebook, have steadfastly shifted against the laissez-faire approach that has governed so far.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com



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