This is the first part of a two-part series looking at the digital purge of President Trump and his supporters following the protest at Congress.
Was it a direct result of the storming of Congress, or was it an inevitable crackdown once Donald Trump’s bid for a second term was officially rejected by lawmakers? Either way, the social media purge has begun. Trump himself was target number one, with his Twitter account permanently suspended, and his Facebook page banned until the end of his presidency.
While these blackouts were purportedly a response to the president encouraging violence, activists have long been pressuring Big Tech to silence the man, and it was to be expected that social media companies would fold once he left the White House. The de-platforming of Trump was only the first step, however, in what has become a major attempt to “purify” the digital realm.
YouTube Silences Claims of Election Fraud
While most would understand the drive behind eradicating open calls for violence online, YouTube has decided it will no longer tolerate any content that questions the result of the 2020 election – since that’s what supposedly lead to the Jan. 6 breach of Congress.
On the evening of Jan. 7, the digital video platform tweeted that it would temporarily suspend any channels that violate its policies around misinformation and the election:
“Due to the disturbing events that transpired yesterday, and given that the election results have now been certified, starting today *any* channels posting new videos with false claims in violation of our policies will now receive a strike.”
Previously, YouTube simply removed videos that questioned the narrative of Joe Biden’s victory. “Over the last month, we’ve removed thousands of videos which spread misinformation claiming widespread voter fraud changed the result of the 2020 election, including several videos President Trump posted to his channel,” it said as part of its announcement. Now, any channel that does so gets three strikes within 90 days before it is permanently banned from the site.
Parler Removed from the Internet
Not content with silencing individual users, Silicon Valley is taking aim at entire social media platforms. Of course, controlling speech is more efficient that way.
The Twitter-like site Parler has been in the spotlight lately as an online free-speech zone – but now faces an existential crisis. After bans from Apple, Amazon, and Google, Parler is now off the internet, and its pathways to resurrection are getting more limited by the day.
Apple and Google have removed Parler from their app stores, while Amazon kicked Parler off its web hosting services – severely limiting the site’s immediate ability to operate. Each of the Big Tech behemoths blamed Parler for playing host to extremists and harboring content that led to violence at Capitol Hill.
Apple stated: “We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity … Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety.” Amazon chimed in, telling Parler: “We’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms.”
Founder and CEO of Parler, John Matze, originally said the platform could be offline for about a week as his staff rebuilds from scratch – but this has now been extended as many of the site’s other support services have dropped it, including its attorneys. He accused Big Tech of a coordinated attempt to eradicate competition while using the protest as an excuse, writing:
“We are the closest thing to competition Facebook or Twitter has seen in many years. I believe Amazon, Google, Apple worked together to try and ensure they don’t have competition.
They will NOT win! We are the worlds [sic] last hope for free speech and free information.
What they are doing is unprecedented, unfounded and absolutely disgusting. Shameful …
Parley [Parler’s name for posts] – brings two people with conflicting ideas together. Our mission is free speech, democracy and us the people having the power. The elite don’t want us to be free, they want hate division and power!”
But is this anything new?
Gab: Been There, Done That
Before there was Parler, there was Gab. Since 2017, Gab has scooped up users disillusioned with Twitter – and has reportedly been gaining 10,000 users per hour after Trump’s Twitter ban and the Jan. 6 protest at Congress.
Gab has been banned from app stores, payment platforms, hosting services, and other third-party tools, recently posting a long list on Twitter. “Getting banned by Amazon? That’s so two years ago,” the company joked in response to Parler’s setback.
So, what is the remedy? In an illustration of the enterprising spirit that was the foundation of Silicon Valley, Gab’s answer appears to be “make our own.” In response to being blacklisted from email service Mailgun, Gab built one itself. It also made its own servers after others refused to host the site – as well as its own web browser and video-hosting platform.
Now, it appears Gab is taking the next step, introducing its upcoming Gab Phone – an operating system to compete with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, which currently control an estimated 98% of smartphones worldwide. The new operating system utilizes open-source software GrapheneOS, which it says is essentially “Android minus everything and anything Google with added security and privacy features.” In an email to users, Gab said:
“If your business is built on the backs of Silicon Valley tyrants (Apple, Google, et al) they can and will attempt to destroy you if and when you become a threat to their interests. They did this to Gab. Then Fortnite. Now Parler … Apple banning Parler is not the neutral implementation of some objective standard, but rather a cynical, politically motivated gesture and evidence of Silicon Valley elites’ disdain for ordinary Americans. The solution, as always, is not government. It is to build your own.”
The company has predicted Facebook and Twitter will soon be abandoned by the masses, who will move to seek freedom. Is it right?
That’s not the end of our round-up describing the post-protest social media purge. Stay tuned for part two.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.