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Tech giants banished Trump. Now things get complicated

15 Comments
By BARBARA ORTUTAY
FILE - This combination of photos shows logos for social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. For the past four years, President Donald Trump has enjoyed special status not given to regular users on Twitter and Facebook even as he used his perch atop the social media pyramid to peddle misinformation and hurl abuse at his critics. Could his loose leash on the platforms come to an end on Jan. 20, 2021, when his successor is inaugurated? (AP Photo/File)

As the world adjusts to a Twitter without @realdonaldtrump, the next big question is: “Now what?"

Major tech platforms, long accused of giving President Donald Trump special treatment not allotted to regular users, have shown him the door in the wake of his incitement of violence by supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6. He’s gone from Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat — even Shopify.

But in many ways, booting the president was the easy part.

Will companies now hold other world leaders to the same standard? Will they wade further into deciding what is and isn't allowed on their platforms, potentially alienating large swaths of their user base? Will all this lead to further online splintering, pushing those flirting with extreme views to fringe sites and secret chat groups?

Although they've long sought to remain neutral, Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms are slowly waking up to the active role they and their algorithms have played in shaping a modern world filled with polarized, angry groups and huge factions falling for bogus conspiracies and misinformation about science, politics and medicine.

“What we’re seeing is a shift from the platforms from a stance of free-speech absolutism, towards an understanding of speech moderation as a matter of public health," said civic media professor Ethan Zuckerman of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

None of this can be fixed soon, if ever. Certainly not by blocking a president with just a few days left in his term.

But there are blueprints for future action. Remember “Plandemic?" That was the slickly-produced, 26-minute, misinformation-ridden video promoting COVID-19 conspiracies that emerged seemingly out of nowhere and racked up millions of views in a matter of days. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube scrambled to take it down — too late. But they were ready for the sequel, which failed to attract even a fraction of the attention of the first.

“Sharing disinformation about COVID is a danger because it makes it harder for us to fight the disease," Zuckerman said. “Similarly, sharing disinformation about voting is an attack on our democracy.”

Unsurprisingly, it's been easier for tech giants to act decisively on matters of public health than on politics. Corporate bans of the U.S. president and his supporters have led to loud, if generally unfounded, cries of censorship as well as charges of left-wing bias. It's even attracted criticism from European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel — not exactly a friend of Trump's.

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said freedom of opinion is a fundamental right of “elementary significance.”

“This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators — not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” he told reporters in Berlin. “Seen from this angle, the chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the U.S. president have now been permanently blocked.”

From that German perspective, it should be the government, and not private companies like Facebook and Twitter, who decides what counts as dangerous speech on social platforms. That approach might be feasible in Europe, but it's much more complicated in the U.S., where the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of expression from government interference, although not from corporate policy on privately owned communication platforms.

Governments, of course, remain free to regulate tech companies, another area of ferment. Over the past year, Trump, other Republicans and some Democrats have called for revoking a fundamental 1996 legal provision known as Section 230. That protects social platforms, which can host trillions of messages, from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted. But so far there's been more heat than light on the issue.

Still, few are happy with the often sluggish, after-the-fact, three-strikes takedowns and suspensions that have characterized Twitter and Facebook for years. Particularly in the light of the Capitol insurrection, the deadly Charlottesville rally in 2017 and live-streamed mass shootings.

Sarita Schoenebeck, University of Michigan professor who focuses on online harassment, said it might be time for platforms to reevaluate how they approach problematic material on their sites.

“For years, platforms have evaluated what kinds of content are appropriate or not by evaluating the content in isolation, without considering the broader social and cultural context that it takes place in,” she said. “We need to revisit this approach. We should rely on a combination of democratic principles, community governance and platform rules to shape behavior.”

Jared Schroeder, an expert in social media and the First Amendment at Southern Methodist University, thinks the Trump bans will encourage his base of followers to move towards other social platforms where they can organize and communicate with fewer — if any — restrictions.

“It’s likely the bans will fuel the us-against-them narrative – and it’s also likely other forums will get a boost in traffic, as we saw after the 2020 election," he said. “The bans have taken away the best tools for organizing people and for Trump to speak to the largest audiences, but these are by no means the only tools.”

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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Will they wade further into deciding what is and isn't allowed on their platforms, potentially alienating large swaths of their user base? 

The terms and conditions already exist. Promoting violence is not allowed on these platforms. It's well known that these platforms ignore their own rules for elected officials, because if they were to ban white nationalists, they'd have to ban many right wing politicians for spreading the same falsehoods and hate.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

You can be banned from some sites for much less.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

This is the end of free America.

Oh god. Americans are so weird about their freedom. Their country isn't that free for so many people, they can't afford to change jobs because of health care, they imprison more people than any other nation...

America hasn't been "free" since the wild west. It's the same illusion as America being the greatest country in the world, or America having the best democracy ever. These are just things Americans have told themselves in their American bubble of an echo chamber, and kept repeating it. The thing is, the only people who repeat it are those who have never lived in other places in the world to get the outside perspective and realize they were just living in an echo chamber.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Will companies now hold other world leaders to the same standard? Will they wade further into deciding what is and isn't allowed on their platforms, potentially alienating large swaths of their user base? Will all this lead to further online splintering, pushing those flirting with extreme views to fringe sites and secret chat groups?

They know what they’re doing.

“This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators — not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” he told reporters in Berlin. “Seen from this angle, the chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the U.S. president have now been permanently blocked.”

From that German perspective, it should be the government, and not private companies like Facebook and Twitter, who decides what counts as dangerous speech on social platforms.

Government or not, they did the right thing.

...

People are drunk with lies and conspiracy theories. We’re talking about putting people’s lives in danger. If you wanna lie to people, make them violent and kill each other, then scr-w you and your so called “free speech”.

Tech giants banished Trump. Now things get complicated

This is about making the world a safer and better place. It shouldn’t be that complicated.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Trump misuse of social media has resulted in people dying, and the attempted overthrow of our government. He deserves much worse than being banned from social media, he should be arrested and tried for high crimes.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

ordinary people do not stand a chance when it comes to voicing free speech.

Was there no free speech before the Internet and social media?

Free speech means the government cannot shut you up or punish you for expressing your views. It does not mean you can scribble obnoxious graffiti all over someone’s private wall or privately-owned website, and it does not mean it’s OK to shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

From that German perspective, it should be the government, and not private companies like Facebook and Twitter, who decides what counts as dangerous speech on social platforms. That approach might be feasible in Europe, but it's much more complicated in the U.S., where the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of expression from government interference, although not from corporate policy on privately owned communication platforms.

So, the government deciding or the tech company deciding - one way or the other

But Trump had this coming. He was already skirting the TOS rules that would ban any other regular person off the platform - with only the badge of the Office of the President protecting him (but now he really doesn't have that badge anymore). Georgia's Secretary of State official already warned him this could happen back in December:

"Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We're investigating. There's always a possibility, I get it, and you have the rights to go through the courts. What you don't have the ability to do — and you need to step up and say this — is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed."

If they can ban Trump ordinary people do not stand a chance when it comes to voicing free speech.

Ordinary people already get banned from these private platforms all the time for violating the TOS rules they agreed to when they signed up. The only reason Trump wasn't banned sooner like any other ordinary person was because he's protected by the badge of the Office of the President

Free speech protects you from the government. It doesn't protect you from private entities

On the other hand, some private entities can be considered "public utilities", but that means adopting "net neutrality" (but Trump's FCC doesn't believe in net neutrality, so..........)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is about making the world a safer and better place. It shouldn’t be that complicated.

Trading away rights for the sake of safety is a non starter. It is short sighted and foolish. No government should be allowed to decide what political speech is legal and what isn't. Period. Ever. For any reason. If you don't like someone's stated position on a topic, come up with a well thought out counter argument.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If they can ban Trump ordinary people do not stand a chance when it comes to voicing free speech. It means unelected Billionaires control the world and free democracy no longer exists.

There is no meaningful debating for this observation.

Overwrought nonsense. Wealthy individuals have always owned newspapers for as long as the US has existed and before that in Europe. Before the current crop you had Hearst and Pulitzer, and out west Otis Chandler. They had opinions and their newspapers reflected those opinions. Was the US somehow more democratic then? Most newspapers in the US before WWI were sponsored by a political party. You still see this in the names of some newspapers, example the Tallahassee Democrat or the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. In a competitive free market there are no limits to the views that may be expressed. There are websites on line right this second that host comments more violent than those getting Parler kicked off Amazon. Find out what the Siege Network is. Billionaires don't control people's thought or access to media. There is media catering to every political point of view. If there is an audience they will find some sort of newspaper and/or website and social media that caters to them.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

1glennJan. 14  06:00 pm JST

Trump misuse of social media has resulted in people dying, and the attempted overthrow of our government. He deserves much worse than being banned from social media, he should be arrested and tried for high crimes.

He has spread hatred, fear and lies only to benefit himself and he doesn't care if it harms others. And he must be held accountable for his actions and what his motormouth provoked.

cleoToday  07:39 am JST

ordinary people do not stand a chance when it comes to voicing free speech.

Was there no free speech before the Internet and social media?

Free speech means the government cannot shut you up or punish you for expressing your views. It does not mean you can scribble obnoxious graffiti all over someone’s private wall or privately-owned website, and it does not mean it’s OK to shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre.

Yes, and Wayne LaPierre, Rubbish Limbaygh, Alex Jones and such are also guilty of that. Ever hear about the boy who cried 'wolf'?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Eventually the people will turn on MASS COMMUNICATION, the FB and Twitters have gotten out of control, if they can sensor the president they will start deciding what people can and cannot post on their websites. In America we have the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which protects freedom of expression from government, but the new hacks have their way and they are now using it on the people. They have too much control, now I understand why in the past when there was an overthrow of a government the first thing the people did was seize the radio and tv stations. Now here in America you can't blog if you say something they will shut you down, even here on JT its the same.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

It's obvious, any dissenting view must be immediately deleted lest an unapproved opinion spreads amongst the populace.

If by immediately you mean 'after 4 years of repeated warnings and massive amounts of slack'.

This is about making the world a safer and better place. It shouldn’t be that complicated.

Unfortunately it is. While I agree that we can't just have a free-for-all that allows all these lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories to drown actual facts and reality, it's much more tricky in reality to decide who should be the ones making those determinations.

IHMO there needs to be a global body, similar to something like the WHO, that all these tech companies sign up to and which creates a set of global guidelines that companies have to adhere to. That would give some consistency and accountability, while also ensuring the tech companies had some kind of shield against pressure from authoritarian governments.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

This is the end of free America. I am very deeply saddened.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

If they can ban Trump ordinary people do not stand a chance when it comes to voicing free speech. It means unelected Billionaires control the world and free democracy no longer exists.

There is no meaningful debating for this observation.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

As the world adjusts to a Twitter without @realdonaldtrump, the next big question is: “Now what?"

What do you mean "Now what?"

It's obvious, any dissenting view must be immediately deleted lest an unapproved opinion spreads amongst the populace.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

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