How social media helped a president incite insurrection
As we approach Inauguration Day, social media companies have hurriedly attempted to sanction Donald Trump in the wake of the attack on the US Capitol. Twitter insisted that three tweets be removed from Trump’s account, locked it for 12 hours, and eventually suspended him; while Facebook and Instagram removed his video thanking his supporters, and took the step of banning him indefinitely (and at least for two weeks). Other platforms such as Twitch and Reddit followed suit in the aftermath of the events.
However, this action is too little, too late. Banning Trump does not solve the longer-term issues, and there is very little in Twitter’s public comments about the measures they will take to prevent this occurring again. They defended their policy previously — suggesting that Trump’s tweets served the public interest, and were therefore to remain up. Even while he was tweeting about the election being stolen, they chose simply to label his tweets with a disclaimer that they were “disputed”. However, plans of riots in Washington have been known about for some time, and “Stop the Steal” groups have proliferated on Facebook. Why has social media been so slow to react to this issue?
One problem is simply that of volume. Twitter has 340 million users, while Facebook has a reported 2.7 billion on just that platform alone (not counting Instagram and Snapchat). Facebook uses AI to identify simple things like spam, and employs a team of moderators to sift through reported content. Twitter similarly has some automated moderation, the use of which has increased due to COVID-19, but that also comes with its own issues, such as an increase in errors and difficulties parsing the nuances of human speech. Additionally, bad content and bad actors remain on both platforms, with users left feeling frustrated as their reports seem to have little effect.
At Podium, we have been aware of the escalating problems of social media for some time, and are working to build a solution. Opaque, internal moderation processes — like those of Facebook and Twitter — simply cannot scale to match this volume of content, but Podium’s system of community moderation won’t have that problem.
Creating a solution for these issues is a task that becomes more urgent by the day. The situation on legacy social media has become rapidly worse, leading to tragedy and a social landscape overwhelmed with conspiracy and extremism. Assisted by grants from Innovate UK, we are accelerating development of our platform, to deliver trust and accountability to the Internet.