America realized rather a lot from these graphic Capitol movies. Hopefully social media did too.
The second impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump opened with a video montage, mostly from social media reports, showing the attacks on the Capitol on January 6th. As the process progressed, the house’s impeachment managers made increased use of social media posts, a trend that is likely to continue.
The same Congress that used social media clips in tracking a former president also has a much bigger role to play in regulating these forums.
These many posts across multiple platforms show that the domestic terrorists who violently violated the Capitol that day have a deep and synergistic relationship with their social media. The platforms provide reinforcement of extremist messages, disinformation, affirmation and a sense of belonging – all aspects of the radicalization process. And for these platforms, increased membership and traffic means higher income from sponsors and advertisers.
But the fact that social media played such a prominent role in the radicalization of white supremacists and right-wing extremists that led to the riots that day also means that the same platforms can and must help make us better. safe place.
The same Congress that used social media clips in tracking a former president also has a much bigger role to play in regulating these forums. Without jeopardizing free speech or civil liberties, social media companies can be an asset in the ongoing fight against domestic terror groups. And there needs to be accountability when they fail – which can result in Congress holding corporations criminally responsible for supporting and facilitating the kind of violence we saw during the Capitol riots by posting on their platforms.
In order to prevent a politically disenfranchised and disaffected violent movement from becoming a permanent insurgency, we need a holistic, all-hands-on-deck approach across society.
Social media companies can be beneficial in the ongoing battle against domestic terrorist groups.
Since we still don’t have a domestic terrorism law, state and federal law enforcement agencies will not be the main players in solving our growing online problem more broadly. Educators, lawmakers, and businesses must do their part to reaffirm a commitment to truth, transparency, and the American core values of our democracy – such as the rule of law, the constitution, free and fair elections, and three equal branches of government.
Most importantly, Big Tech’s social media platforms need to lead initiatives to regain control of the heightened echo chambers of violent extremism.
There is evidence that, if only out of sheer survival instinct, big tech leaders increasingly understand that they need to augment and own their role of getting us here, and create a space to address the threat they are likely to face have relieved.
During a press conference on election security in 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray quoted his agency’s partnership with social media providers in the fight against election disinformation and foreign opponents. Twitter and the FBI have teamed up to quickly remove 130 fake Iran-related accounts that have been suspected of influencing the public discussion of the Biden-Trump presidential debate in September 2020.
As for the domestic terrorism threat, a similar, but perhaps calmer, working relationship with law enforcement agencies appears to have already begun. In June 2020, Facebook classified two organizations as hate groups: the Proud Boys and the American Guard. That same month, Facebook removed hundreds of Boogaloo Bois accounts from its platform. A month later, the platform banned QAnon.
In the UK, Facebook has partnered with police to include firearms training videos in its algorithm to identify violent attacks on its own system. The purpose of the log is to remove the videos and notify the authorities. And late last year we learned that Facebook had reached out to the FBI with concerns about members of a Michigan “militia” whose behavior eventually led to 13 men being accused of storming the State Capitol and kidnapping the governor. Even Parler, the “alt-tech” social media platform favored by Trump supporters and the far right, allegedly provided the FBI with information about at least one suspect in the Capitol uprising.
We should not allow terrorists to search for the most permissible forum.
Indeed, a review of the Capitol rioting by the George Washington University Extremism Program deserves our attention: Law enforcement agencies included social media credentials as part of their criminal evidence in over 150 of the 200 or so riot-related arrests.
The diffusion of social media content in the evidence used against the insurgents cuts two paths. It shows that social media was part of the problem, but it signals that the same platforms can be useful when the consumption of information through posts and tweets seems to be that important to these people – if they want to.
Whether for capitalist motives, the desire to be good corporate citizens, or both when it comes to domestic terrorism, we need social media providers who are less part of the problem than a source of the solution. However, we should not trust the private sector or law enforcement agencies alone, or a combination of them, to ponder the myriad of concerns about civil liberty and privacy and protect them as they advance. More is needed – especially in the form of regulation and legislation. This is how it should look.
Congress must set enforcement standards that social media companies must follow. Legislation should also hold these companies accountable not only for the dangerous content they stop, but also for the bad content they miss. If the government can regulate airlines and track their accidents and near misses, it can be done for an industry that could threaten our democracy. No one other than Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has spoken out in favor of stronger regulation of his own industry – maybe it is time that Congress addressed him.
Congress should also weigh up laws designed to preserve free speech in cyberspace so that platforms and police cannot form an unholy alliance that tramples the Constitution in the name of security. These laws should create uniform standards of acceptance so that content booted from Twitter is also suspended by Parler and the rest of the world. We should not allow terrorists to search for the most permissible forum.
Now let’s set our community standards and protections before the good intentions of Silicon Valley and law enforcement – or the threat we are trying to stop – come out before us.