‘4 years of propaganda’: Trump social media bans come too late, consultants say | Donald Trump
IIn the 24 hours since the U.S. Capitol in Washington was seized by a Trump-supporting mob who contested the results of the 2020 election, American social media companies have banned the president from their platforms for the sake of spreading lies and the Stimulate crowd.
Facebook, Snapchat and Twitch have suspended Donald Trump indefinitely. Twitter has temporarily suspended his account. Several platforms have removed his messages.
These actions, which come just days before the end of Trump’s presidency, are too late, according to misinformation experts and civil rights experts who warned long before the emergence of misinformation and violent right-wing rhetoric on social media websites and Trump’s role in fueling.
“That’s exactly what we expected,” said Brian Friedberg, a senior researcher on the Harvard Shorenstein Center’s Technology and Social Change project, which studies the rise of movements like QAnon. “It’s very consistent with how the convergence of different factions responsible for what happened yesterday worked online and how the platforms’ earlier attempts to deal with them have failed.”
For the past decade, tech platforms have been reluctant to moderate Trump’s posts despite repeated violations of hate speech regulations. Before winning the presidency, Trump used Twitter to intensify his racist campaign falsely claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. As president, he shared racist videos targeting Muslims on Twitter and posted them on Facebook to ban Muslims from entering the United States. This is a clear violation of the platform’s policies against hate speech. He retweeted to his tens of millions of followers a video from one of his supporters saying “white power!” in June 2020 June. He appeared to be promoting violence against protests against Black Lives Matter in a message shared on multiple platforms that included the phrase “When the looting begins, the shootings begin”.
Trump’s lies and rhetoric found an eager audience online – one that won’t go away when his administration ends. Experts warn that the platforms will continue to be used to organize and perpetuate violence. For example, they point out that Facebook and YouTube have failed to contain the spread of dangerous conspiracy theoretic movements like QAnon, an unfounded belief that a secret cabal controls the government and is child trafficking, and that Trump heroically stops them. Sections of the crowd that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday to ban certification of Trump’s election defeat donned QAnon-related merchandise, including hats and t-shirts, and the action was discussed weeks in advance in many QAnon-related groups and forums .
QAnon theories and communities have flourished on Facebook this year. By the time the company banned QAnon-themed groups, pages, and accounts in October, hundreds of related pages and groups had amassed over 3 million followers and members.
YouTube removed “tens of thousands of QAnon videos and terminated hundreds of channels” around the time of Facebook’s actions. It has also updated its guidelines to target more conspiracy theory videos that promote violence in the real world, but it still stopped banning QAnon content immediately. A spokesperson for YouTube noted that the company has taken a number of other measures to address QAnon content, including adding bulletin boards that will share facts about QAnon in videos as early as 2018.
According to Jennifer M. Grygiel, an assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University and a social media expert, Trump’s influence of social media on the spread of propaganda has remained largely uncontrolled amid a vacuum of laws governing government speech on social media.
Smoke fills the corridor outside the Senate Chamber in Washington on Wednesday. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
Grygiel cited the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which governed the spread of government propaganda, as an example of a law restricting government communications. However, there is no such regulation for the president’s Twitter account, Grygiel said. Instead, we have relied on the assumption that the president would not use his social media account to spark a riot.
“What happened this week is the result of four years of systematic propaganda by the presidency,” said Grygiel.
In the absence of meaningful regulation, tech companies have had little incentive to regulate their massively profitable platforms, curb the spread of falsehoods that lead to engagement, and moderate the president.
That is why experts say that things have to change. In 2020, Republicans and Democrats stepped up their calls for big tech regulation. Events this week underscore that big tech reckoning must include measures aimed at addressing the risks posed by lies and fueling violence on their platforms, some argue.
“The violence we witnessed in our nation’s capital today is a direct response to misinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech that has been allowed to spread on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.,” said Jim Steyer, The Common Sense Media children’s nonprofit helped organize the Stop Hate for Profit campaign (with the ADL and a number of civil rights groups) urging advertisers to boycott Facebook for hate speech and cost Facebook millions.
“Social media platforms must be held accountable for their complicity in the destruction of our democracy,” he added, arguing that in the absence of meaningful enforcement through social media, Congress must pass better laws to address hate speech on these platforms.
Facebook and Twitter did not respond to requests for comments.
Grygiel said it was time to move away from the idea that a president should tweet in the first place. Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook subsidiary Instagram, said on Twitter on Thursday evening that Facebook has long believed that “regulating harmful content would be a good thing”. He admitted that Facebook “cannot fight harmful content without considering those in power as a potential source”.
Grygiel said, “We need to work impartially here. We need laws that will ensure that no future president can ever propagate the American people like this again. “