This is the second part of a two-part series looking at the digital purge of President Trump and his supporters following the protest at the Capitol. In Part One, we looked at YouTube restrictions, Parler’s existential crisis, and the solutions pioneered by Gab.
Post-Jan. 6, more than a dozen online platforms have restricted President Donald Trump, content affiliated with Trump, and even messages that question the narrative surrounding election 2020.
Will the agenda to stamp out “fake news” and “conspiracy theories” online intensify in the aftermath of the D.C. protest? Celebrities and politicos are already celebrating the banning of Trump, but others warn that allowing open communication online could mean the MAGA movement continues, violent or not.
Social Media ‘Conspiracy Theories’ Blamed for Violence
Various news outlets have already published stories condemning the spread of online “conspiracy theories” about what happened at the Jan. 6 protest. The theory that Antifa radicals infiltrated the pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., and broke into the Capitol against the wishes of the crowd is one that has flourished online, even gaining traction among some high-profile voices, such as that of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Whatever the truth may be, the press is not interested in investigating – preferring to label the idea “baseless” and blame social media for tolerating such rumors.
As for triggering the storming of Congress, the media have blamed online platforms for channeling speech that supposedly caused violence on the day.
“Inside Trump supporters’ online echo chambers, the chaos of Jan. 6 could be seen coming,” stated The New York Times in an analysis of how the protest came about. “During the storming of the Capitol, social media sites were used by the mob to share information, including directions on which streets to take to avoid the police and which tools to bring to help pry open doors.”
But how to solve the problem?
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) commended Twitter for banning the president, but called for further action: “Social media companies have allowed this vile content to fester for too long, and need to do much more. But banning him is a good start.”
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) reminded Americans, “[I]t’s important to remember, this is much bigger than one person. It’s about an entire ecosystem that allows misinformation and hate to spread and fester unchecked.”
With Democrats set to reign supreme over lawmaking for the next two years, does this signal the beginning of a new congressional push to control online speech?
Civil Rights Groups Torn on Big Tech Purge
Civil rights organizations are struggling to reconcile their stated purpose of advocating for freedom and equality for all with their view that Trump is a tyrant and his supporters a basket of rabid white supremacists.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a leading digital rights group that has largely avoided the issue of Trump and social media censorship during his presidency, was forced into commenting – though it attempted to straddle both sides of the argument, defending Silicon Valley’s editorializing while expressing free-speech concerns:
“The decisions by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and others to suspend and/or block President Trump’s communications via their platforms is a simple exercise of their rights, under the First Amendment and Section 230, to curate their sites. We support those rights. Nevertheless, we are always concerned when platforms take on the role of censors, which is why we continue to call on them to apply a human rights framework to those decisions.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, a noted Trump detractor, released a similarly dithering statement to the press. As reported by Liberty Nation’s Jeff Charles, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane admitted, “We understand the desire to permanently suspend [Trump] now,” but pointed out that such open censorship could have a chilling effect on online speech for others.
Both the EFF and ACLU urged social media sites to apply the same rules to politicians and world leaders as they do to other users – a request that could be interpreted in a number of ways.
It seems cognitive dissonance will intensify as civil rights defenders are increasingly forced to simultaneously condemn and encourage censorship.
Will Trump Supporters Look for Greener Pastures?
The exodus of Trump supporters and others who value free speech gained momentum after the Nov. 3 election, but the social media purge that started in the wake of the protest at Congress has only hastened it. While some have been banned outright, others have decided to jump ship before the censors come for them, too.
Political pundit and podcast host Dan Bongino was one of the first major figures to leave Twitter after Trump was banned from the platform. He questioned the core mission of today’s social media giants, writing, “When [you] fully grasp the fact that Twitter, Fakebook, and YouTube are political operations first, and businesses second, everything makes sense. The speech suppression is going to get worse.”
This was followed by his farewell Twitter message:
“This will be my final post on this anti-American platform. The greatest threats to liberty are the destructive tech tyrants who have acted as publishers in their ongoing wars on conservatives & free speech. You can find me on Parler, where we respect free speech.”
In December, Bongino announced that he was taking an ownership stake in Parler – though that platform has its own set of troubles right now. Banned by Apple, Google, and Amazon, Parler on Jan. 11 filed a lawsuit asking a court to prevent Amazon from withdrawing web-hosting services from the site. Parler claimed the ban would – and was designed to – “kill Parler’s business.”
In an impassioned speech on Fox & Friends, Bongino declared he would “go bankrupt and destitute” before he would allow Parler to be permanently shut down. “If Parler goes down, everyone else will be next,” he added.
He is not the only prominent Trump supporter who is beginning to promote alternative social media – how long until others abandon the major platforms entirely? If there is anywhere left to go, that is.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.