After years of enabling former President Donald J. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and less-than-presidential behavior, social media platforms finally cut the cord in the days following the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
The two most significant platforms that metaphorically silenced Trump are Facebook and Twitter. The Silicon Valley giants have reputations for allowing Trump’s accounts to stay active, even amid a flurry storm of misinformation concerning the 2020 presidential election and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Each social media platform gave its own reasoning for banning Trump. Twitter, co-founded by CEO Jack Dorsey and long known as Trump’s megaphone, cited its Glorification of Violence policy as to why it permanently suspended his account. The two tweets that it marked as violating its Glorification of Violence policy were, in comparison to some of Trump’s past tweets, tame.
One tweet Twitter cited, posted on Jan. 8, said, “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
The other tweet Twitter flagged said, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Twitter went on to say that the tweets did not support the “orderly transition” of power and that “they were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol … ”
Due to the tame nature of the tweets, it seems like these tweets were picked out of convenience rather than actually violating Twitter’s policies. But, the outcome was still the same: Trump’s biggest propaganda machine shut him down and he was kicked out of the digital spotlight that he so dearly loves.
“Losing his huge online following” would effectively “deprive him of cultural influence long into the future,” according to an article from The New York Times.
For Facebook, its CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that (Trump) intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” as the reasoning behind Trump’s Facebook suspension.
He continued, “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”
Following Trump’s social media expulsion, many have questioned why he wasn’t banned earlier.
Zuckerberg provided half an explanation for it. He said, “we believe that the public has a right to broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech.”
But, it’s likely that both platforms allowed Trump’s account to continue due to the vast number of users that Trump brought to their platforms. Before his ban from social media, Trump had approximately 87.3 million followers on Twitter and 35 million followers on Facebook. That’s an incredible amount of people the technology giants now have using their services.
Trump’s internet presence also allowed the social media platforms to truly fulfill the vision their creators had in mind, in some twisted manner. He got people across the globe to connect and interact with each other in a digital space, even if it was in a less-than-friendly way. Why would they want to destroy that?
Something else to take into consideration is the CEOs didn’t want to ban Trump at all based on their own principles and views of the internet. After Twitter kicked Trump from its platform, Dorsey posted a lengthy thread explaining his views on the former president’s removal.
Dorsey said the ban “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over part of the global public conversation.” He continued, “This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet.”
This follows Zuckerberg’s earlier statement that the public has a right to political speech, even if it’s contentious. An article from The New York Times also observed that “Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg appear to hate playing the role of speech police, and avoid it whenever possible.”
Their lack of enthusiasm about getting involved aligns with a long-held idea of creating a decentralized democratic internet. By moderating the content on their sites and making these types of decisions, they’re going against the tenets of a decentralized web, something both of them seem to subscribe to.
In the end, removing Trump from social media was the right thing to do. The companies put the good of democracy above their own interests and beliefs and helped mitigate the potential for another insurrection to occur.
Nevertheless, politicians and celebrities on the Right have come out to say that Trump’s social media ban is a violation of freedom of speech. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., took to his 6.6 million followers on Twitter and wrote, “We are living Orwell’s 1984. Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what’s left is only there for a chosen few.”
George Orwell’s infamous novel “1984” is often cited in relation to censorship, free speech, free expression and big government conversations. But, Trump Jr.’s reference to the novel and his tweet isn’t exactly applicable to his father’s current social media ban.
Erwin Chemerinsky, a distinguished professor of law and dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, noted that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Trump’s account suspension because the First Amendment protects people from being censored by the government, not by private companies.
“A private company, no matter how large, does not have to comply with the First Amendment,” he said, according to an ABC News article. “Facebook and Twitter can suspend who they want and there is no First Amendment issue.”
While Trump Jr.’s reference to “1984” was misguided, he still addresses an important point. The real problem is the power that Big Tech has and the dangerous precedent that his ban sets.
In some respects, Facebook and Twitter literally had the fate of democracy in their hands. For a private company to hold that much power over a country and its public discourse is unnerving. The public discourse should be shaped by the people, not a private entity.
Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the former deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Center for Democracy, tweeted, “It’s coherent — and in my view absolutely appropriate — to believe both that (i) the social media companies were right to suspend Trump’s accounts last week, and (ii) the companies’ immense power over public discourse is a problem for democracy.”
ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane also weighed in on the discussion.
“We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier,” she said, according to a statement publicized on Twitter.
“(Former) President Trump can turn to his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others — like the many Black, Brown and (LGBTQ+) activists who have been censored by social media companies — will not have that luxury,” she added.
Many social media companies poise themselves on the side of democracy by saying they encourage political conversation by allowing as many people as possible to be able to participate on their platforms, even if it includes hate-groups and demagogues.
But, it seems like the digital spaces the companies created pushed political parties farther apart instead of bringing them together, something they can be blamed for due to how their algorithms work.
Now, all we are left with are questions of where to go from here.
It’s becoming blatantly obvious that Big Tech needs to be regulated in some way. Their political and social influence has surpassed anything anyone could have envisioned and allowing them to continue unchecked could be detrimental for a democracy that is fracturing at its core.
Twitter Admits Policy ‘Errors’ After Far-Right Abuse Its New Rules of Posting Pictures
Twitter’s new picture permission policy was aimed at combating online abuse, but US activists and researchers said Friday that far-right backers have employed it to protect themselves from scrutiny and to harass opponents.
Even the social network admitted the rollout of the rules, which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent, was marred by malicious reports and its teams’ own errors.
It was just the kind of trouble anti-racism advocates worried was coming after the policy was announced this week.
“Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts,” the message said, with a list of dozens of Twitter handles.
Gwen Snyder, an organizer and researcher in Philadelphia, said her account was blocked this week after a report to Twitter about a series of 2019 photos she said showed a local political candidate at a march organized by extreme-right group Proud Boys.
Rather than go through an appeal with Twitter she opted to delete the images and alert others to what was happening.
“Twitter moving to eliminate (my) work from their platform is incredibly dangerous and is going to enable and embolden fascists,” she told AFP.
But the rules don’t apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweets are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”
By Friday, Twitter noted the roll out had been rough: “We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors.”
“We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended,” the firm added.
Jack Dorsey Post Twitter Is Chasing His Crypto, Fintech Dream
At a packed Miami conference in June, Jack Dorsey, mused in front of thousands of attendees about where his real passion lay: “If I weren’t at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on Bitcoin.”
On Monday, Dorsey made good on one part of that, announcing he would leave Twitter for the second time, handing the CEO position to a 10-year veteran at the firm. The 45-year-old entrepreneur, who is often described as an enigma with varied interests from meditation to yoga to fashion design, plans to pursue his passion which include focusing on running Square and doing more philanthropic work, according to a source familiar with his plan.
Well before the surprise news, Dorsey had laid the groundwork for his next chapter, seeding both companies with cryptocurrency-related projects.
Underlying Dorsey’s broader vision is the principle of “decentralisation,” or the idea that technology and finance should not be concentrated among a handful of gatekeepers, as it is now, but should, instead, be steered by the hands of the many, either people or entities.
The concept has played out at Square, which has built a division devoted to working on projects and awarding grants with the aim of growing Bitcoin’s popularity globally. Bitcoin price in India stood at Rs. 44.52 lakh as of 12:50pm IST on December 1.
Dorsey has been a longtime proponent of Bitcoin, and the appeal is that the cryptocurrency will allow for private and secure transactions with the value of Bitcoin unrelated to any government.
The idea has also underpinned new projects at Twitter, where Dorsey tapped a top lieutenant – and now the company’s new CEO Parag Agrawal – to oversee a team that is attempting to construct a decentralised social media protocol, which will allow different social platforms to connect with one another, similar to the way email providers operate.
The project called Bluesky will aim to allow users control over the types of content they see online, removing the “burden” on companies like Twitter to enforce a global policy to fight abuse or misleading information, Dorsey said in 2019 when he announced Bluesky.
Bitcoin has also figured prominently at both of his companies. Square became one of the first public companies to own Bitcoin assets on its balance sheet, having invested $220 million (roughly Rs. 1,650 crore) in the cryptocurrency.
In August, Square created a new business unit called TBD to focus on Bitcoin. The company is also planning to build a hardware wallet for Bitcoin, a Bitcoin mining system, as well as a decentralised Bitcoin exchange.
Twitter allows users to tip their favourite content creators with Bitcoin and has been testing integrations with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that allows people to collect unique digital art.
Analysts see the transition as a positive signal for Square, the fintech platform he co-founded in 2009. Square’s core Cash App, after a bull run in its share in 2020, has experienced slower growth in the most recent quarter. It is also trying to digest the $29 billion (roughly Rs. 2,17,240 crore) acquisition of Buy Now Pay Later provider Afterpay, its largest acquisition ever.
But these ambitions will not pay off until years from now, analysts cautioned.
“The blockchain platform they’re trying to develop is great but also fraught with technical challenges and difficult to scale for consumers. I think he’ll focus more on Square and crypto will be part of that,” said Christopher Brendler, an analyst at DA Davidson.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Interested in cryptocurrency? We discuss all things crypto with WazirX CEO Nischal Shetty and WeekendInvesting founder Alok Jain on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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Twitter Bans Sharing Personal Photos, Videos of Other People Without Consent
Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent, in a tightening of the network’s policy just a day after it changed CEOs.
Beginning today, we will not allow the sharing of private media, such as images or videos of private individuals without their consent. Publishing people’s private info is also prohibited under the policy, as is threatening or incentivizing others to do so.https://t.co/7EXvXdwegG
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) November 30, 2021
Twitter said this policy does not apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”
“We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service,” the company added.
The right of Internet users to appeal to platforms when images or data about them are posted by third parties, especially for malicious purposes, has been debated for years.
Twitter already prohibited the publication of private information such as a person’s phone number or address, but there are “growing concerns” about the use of content to “harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of individuals,” Twitter said.
The company noted a “disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.”
High-profile examples of online harassment include the barrages of racist, sexist,and homophobic abuse on Twitch, the world’s biggest video game streaming site.
But instances of harassment abound, and victims must often wage lengthy fights to see hurtful, insulting or illegally produced images of themselves removed from the online platforms.
Some Twitter users pushed the company to clarify exactly how the tightened policy would work.
“Does this mean that if I take a picture of, say, a concert in Central Park, I need the permission of everyone in it? We diminish the sense of the public to the detriment of the public,” tweeted Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York.
The change came the day after Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving the company, and handed CEO duties to company executive Parag Agrawal.
The platform, like other social media networks, has struggled against bullying, misinformation, and hate-fuelled content.
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