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Facebook, Twitterand streaming service Twitch have all suspended President Trump’s accounts in the past day for inciting violence, marking the first time social media companies have blocked him, even temporarily, from their services.
But experts say the bans won’t stop Trump from inciting violence in the future.
“The imminent problems [on these services] continue to increase, ”said Gautam Hans, director of the Stanton Foundation First Amendment Clinic at Vanderbilt University. “I don’t think it’s going to go away.”
The bans came after Trump supporters besieged the US Capitol Wednesday, prompted by unsubstantiated allegations of a stolen election. Rioters overpowered police, smashed windows and entered legislative chambers and the offices of several members of Congress.
In response to the violence, Trump posted a video on social media on Wednesday in which he said he understood the frustration of the rioters and loved them.
Eventually, Twitter deleted the video and suspended Trump’s account, to reactivate Thursday after deleting the violent tweets. Trump used the account Thursday concede the election.
Meanwhile, Facebook also deleted the video on Wednesday and today said it had suspended his account “Indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks.”
And Twitch, owned by Amazon, has also banned Trump indefinitely.
For years, Twitter and Facebook have struggled to deal with Trump’s tweets, which often include misinformation and references to violence. They’ve gone from doing nothing to adding warning labels to some of his posts that they say are over the limit.
“It’s been a constant surge of reaction from social media platforms,” said Sinan Aral, an MIT researcher specializing in social media. “This is the culmination of understanding social media companies need to do more so that the laissez-faire attitude isn’t enough.”
But the bans won’t necessarily change Trump’s future behavior – assuming he’s reinstated – or absolve social media services of their role in helping Trump amplify his past incitement, social media experts have said. The bans will also not solve the widespread problem of other influential people posting messages that may incite violence.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday slammed social media companies for doing little to stop Trump over the years. “The time has come for companies in Silicon Valley to stop allowing this monstrous behavior – and to go even further than they have done by permanently banning this man from their platforms and putting policies to prevent their technology from being used by the country’s rulers to fuel the insurgency. “She said in a statement.
Mark Shmulik, technology analyst at brokerage firm AB Bernstein, said he did not expect the atmosphere on social media to change due to recent Trump bans.
“If anything, there is a clear argument that it will only make manners examine the manners of people like Ted Cruz,” he said of the Republican senator from Texas and supporter of Trump who claimed social media was biased against conservatives. “If their complaint was about social media, the voices are silencing now… they have a clear example.”
Aral agreed, saying, “I don’t think Ted Cruz is going to say, ‘Oh, they banned Trump? I better stop tweeting what I tweet. ”
Trump loyalists might end up helping to get Trump’s message out even without Trump on services. “It’s kind of like playing whack-a-mole,” said Mike Horner, director of the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech University. “You try to stop one complaint and another pops up. It’s really hard to stop.
Aral said the solution is to address four areas: advertising-driven business models of companies that promote increased eyeball counts, and algorithms that can promote harmful content. He also highlighted companies’ stricter content policies based on what the company deems acceptable and legislation that could provide new content rules for social media. And while companies don’t have control over all four areas, they can make progress by improving what they can.
Shmulik said the problem is an ongoing problem for the businesses of these companies, whose reputations continue to suffer. And as the new Biden administration steps in, there could be more consequences ahead – for social media companies.
“If I’m Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey, it makes me lose sleep,” he says. “That’s not why I got into the business.”
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