Storming the Capitol Started on Social Media, and It Should Have Ended There
After the attack on the US Capitol, Facebook, Twitter, and other services have restricted Donald Trump’s access to their platforms, but they are still shirking their social responsibilities.
It took an armed insurrection on the US Capitol for Facebook and Twitter to try to quiet the incendiary words of President Donald Trump on their sites.
For years, execs at both companies have been asked what it would take—perhaps a call to nuclear war?—to ban Trump from their platforms. The answer comes two weeks before his time as president runs out. But as the literal smoke clears, social media has yet to take steps to stop those who planned yesterday’s action and potential future ones.
Those who stormed the Capitol spent weeks on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms calling their comrades to arms. Plans for January 6, 2021, were known about so far in advance that it was already emblazoned on the merch rioters wore as they tore apart Senate offices. “Be there, will be wild,” Trump himself tweeted.
Calls to sedition used to be printed on flyers and leaflets that were nearly impossible to trace. Now, instead of being samizdat, they’re shared on social media. Richard Barnett, who broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and stole mail from her desk, used Facebook to urge people to DC on Wednesday. “This is OUR COUNTRY!!! Can you give one day from the Internet or work or whatever to be active. Get the f — — up people. Please STAND!!! If not now, when?” he wrote, according to The Washington Post.
In response to mild restrictions on speech that ran afoul of mainstream social media platforms’ policies, alt-right alternatives like Gab, Parler, and TheDonald.win have taken up the mantle of hate speech. But there is also enough venomous spew to fill Facebook groups and proliferate on Twitter, despite daily calls for Jack Dorsey to “ ban the Nazis.”
The attack on the Capitol should serve as a wake-up call for many things, but particularly for the aid social media has given to hate movements in the United States and elsewhere. Banning one individual, even when he’s the president, is not enough.
The failure of Mark Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and other tech CEOs to take action has resulted in people wearing “Camp Auschwitz” hoodies, breaking into the Capitol, and parading through its halls carrying Confederate flags. Those images are the IRL culmination of what has passed for discourse on social media for far too long. Only after yesterday’s events has Facebook moved to remove posts with #stormthecapitol, a hashtag you can still find all over Twitter.
Social media comes with social responsibility, and those in charge of these platforms have abdicated theirs. While terrorists use these sites for things like plotting the kidnapping of Michigan’s governor, CEOs spin stories and place the blame (and sometimes praise) on the artificial intelligence tasked with monitoring terms-of-service violations. It is well past time for them to come to terms with what this has wrought on humanity.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.