Assistant Campus Life Editor
We won’t be seeing Donald Trump adding to his wedding Pinterest board any time soon. Some of the biggest social media apps have banned him from their platforms after the former president incited the violence at the Capitol for election fraud. After his claims against the outcome of the 2020 election, there was a surge of right-wing nationalists coming to his aid and spreading misinformation all over social media. The Washington Post reported that the ban of Trump and his supporters has actually been working to stop the spread of misinformation. According to a study done by Zignal Labs, online misinformation pertaining to election fraud had dropped 73 percent on Twitter since their decision to ban him on Jan. 8. The uses of hashtags and terms commonly associated with the Capitol riot, such as #FightforTrump, #HoldtheLine, and ‘March for Trump,’ have dropped by 95 percent. Although it’s working to stop misinformation from being spread, the various platforms have received criticism for censorship of speech.
Since the start of his presidency, Donald Trump has been a devout user of Twitter, with 88 million followers before his account was suspended. Following the loss of the election, Twitter had been flagging his posts for misinformation about the election. According to a tally done by the New York Times, Twitter labeled “38 percent of his 29 tweets and retweets with warnings that said he made misleading claims about the electoral process.” Since the protests in the summer of 2020, Twitter said they were planning on taking action against those who used their platform to spread misleading information. Just last week, Twitter announced that they removed 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon following the riot at the Capitol. In their announcement following the purging of these accounts, the company has made it clear that they don’t want to allow conversations on the platform that can incite real harm. A Twitter spokesperson said, “We apply our rules impartially for all people on our service, regardless of background or political affiliation.”
Mark Zuckerberg announced on Jan. 6 that Trump would be banned indefinitely from Facebook and Instagram, at least through the presidential transition. The weeks following the election, Instagram and Facebook had flagged posts, stories, and hashtags to stop the spread of misinformation. As an avid Instagram user, I noticed there were no recent posts under hashtags for weeks due to the harmful content people had been posting amongst various hashtags and communities. Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post, “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” in which you can find many hateful comments about the decision. The companies even advised that their employees do not share their place of work due to threats that have been received.
Were these social media platforms too late in stopping the spread of harmful information? Big tech companies were quick to try to stop misinformation on their platforms at the start of the pandemic, but it hasn’t been enough. By continuing to allow this spread the companies have made it clear that they never really cared about the public’s safety until the safety of public officials and their employees were threatened. Flagging posts and removing videos was helpful, but it’s the duty of social media platforms to protect users against harmful messages if that’s what they claim to stand for. During a time where we are meant to be home, social media platforms have become a haven. They should have been quicker to act because acting after the attack on the Capitol showed they didn’t see it as an issue until it moved offline.
Other large tech companies that have made similar decisions include Google, Youtube, Amazon, Snapchat, Reddit, Twitch, and more. Unfortunately, the choice to ban users from spreading misinformation has been causing a lot of opposition from his supporters and people that pretend to care about the constitution. There has been a surge of right-wing folks moving to apps like Parler in protest of company choices. In an interview for NPR, social media researcher Jennifer Grygiel said, “We know that free speech has its limits when it comes to fomenting violence, and we also know that private companies aren’t covered by the First Amendment.” The pushback we have been seeing about censorship ironically comes from a place of misinformation. Trump and friends claiming it is violating their right to freedom of speech obviously do not understand that social media is regulated for the public’s safety.
By signing up for a certain social media site, you agree to its guidelines and rules, regardless if you read them or not. Every one of the sites that have banned Trump and his supporters contains terms you must agree to before creating your account. Therefore, I do not feel bad for any of the people who have been banned because these international companies aren’t the ones spreading misinformation; they are trying to prevent that. As social media becomes a place for news, information, and connections, it is more important than ever that companies are taking responsibility and attempting to prevent violence. For the past twenty years, social media has been growing and becoming an indispensable part of our culture, so it has become time to evaluate what role it plays for public officials and our safety.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Sage Amdahl/Quaker Campus