The threat to Donald Trump’s chances of returning to the White House in 2024 may not lie only in Washington, where impeachment procedure are expected to start this week, but in Silicon Valley, where tech companies have launched an unprecedented crackdown on the president’s promotion machine.
Mr Trump no longer has a Twitter account or a Facebook account after the two companies banned him from their platforms following violence inflicted by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol last week. Meanwhile, Apple, Google, and Amazon have all taken action to combat Speak, Twitter’s niche rival used by many of Mr. Trump’s staunchest right-wing supporters.
These measures have fueled a fierce debate over the question of the balance between a tech company’s right to censor users who violate their content policies and an individual’s right to free speech.
Critics of Mr. Trump have applauded his “ deplatforming ”, which many say was long overdue. But others are concerned that these movements show how much political power has been built by a handful of private companies.
“We understand the desire to permanently suspend [Mr Trump] now, ”said Kate Ruane, senior legislative advisor for the American Civil Liberties Union declaration.
“But it should be of concern to everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the uncontrolled power to pull people off platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions – especially when political realities facilitate those decisions.
For years, social media companies have been under pressure to take action against Mr. Trump. Many on the left believe he used the platforms to fan the flames of violence, amplify conspiracy theories and sow disinformation – including, more recently, baseless claims that Democrats illegally “stole from him.” »The electoral victory.
But it took the storming of Capitol Hill this week by a pro-Trump mob – and the president’s online praise of the rioters – to persuade them to block him completely.
First, Facebook has said it will suspend the president’s account indefinitely. Then Twitter, Mr. Trump’s favorite megaphone for speaking directly to his 88 million subscribers, said it would ban it permanently and not allow him to tweet from associated accounts such as the House. White. YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest, and Snap have also introduced restrictions.
And for the first time, tech groups responsible for some of the internet’s underlying plumbing attempted to muzzle pro-Trump apps and forums used to stage Wednesday’s violence. Amazon has said it will suspend its web hosting services from Parler, forcing it offline unless it finds a replacement provider. Previously, Apple and Google had also kicked Speak from their app stores.
“Just like all social platforms, these services also have their terms of service, which are all meant to specifically prevent things like calls for violence and hate,” said Matt Rivitz of the liberal social media activist group Sleeping. Giants. “Until now, they had rarely applied these rules.”
A former senior Twitter executive said the company believed it had been “incredibly patient” with Mr. Trump. But he felt compelled to put the brakes on the president this week amid fears of an upsurge in violence around Joe Biden’s nomination on January 20.
“The warnings in the ad are clear. . . We have the feeling that other problems are coming. And if they didn’t do anything, they would be criticized for keeping them.
Mr Trump and his closest allies reacted angrily, with the White House saying Twitter employees had “coordinated with Democrats and the radical left” to silence him.
For others, however, the crackdown was long overdue. Robert Reich, professor of public policy at Berkeley and former US secretary of work under Bill Clinton, said: “Social media platforms are four years behind. They let Trump’s lies, conspiracy theories and hatred take hold. The legacy will stay with us for years to come. ”
Still, some believe tech companies are simply acting in their own best interests, seeking to avoid criticism from Democrats and possible regulatory action from a new Biden administration.
Mr. Biden previously called for the repeal of Section 230, the part of U.S. law that protects social media companies from being sued for content posted on their platforms. His administration will also take on antitrust cases against Google and Facebook, while members of Congress continue to push for much stricter federal privacy laws.
Marco Rubio, the Republican senator, told Fox News on Sunday: “It’s very cynical. . . The reason these guys are doing it is because the Democrats are on the verge of taking power and they see this as a way to side with them to avoid any restrictions or any sort of law passed that would harm them.
Either way, the events of the past week put pressure on the Biden administration to act as soon as possible to tighten oversight of big tech companies.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump clearly finds himself with more limited options for communicating with his supporters and the world. He has touted the possibility of building his own platform, but that could also face a crackdown from web hosting service providers, for example.
It remains to be seen whether Facebook decides to make its ban on the president permanent. “If they don’t ban and he comes back, then Facebook becomes their new Twitter and it will become their primary publication vehicle,” said Angelo Carusone, CEO of the nonprofit Media Matters.
But he added: “His political power will be affected as it limits his ability to serve as a centralized voice of the opposition. Without a doubt, it takes a lot of wind on its sails.