The deplatforming of Donald Trump by Twitter and Facebook will certainly go down in history as a watershed moment — but that will never take away the raging debate that the social media giants were selective and opportunistic in banning the US President.
Twitter decided to permanently suspend Trump’s account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” after a decision by Facebook to ban the President through the end of his term. But both companies have spent years defending the rhetoric of Trump and his followers on their platforms — only to change course just as it became certain that Trump was losing power and Democrats were poised to take control of Congress and the White House.
Predictably, pro-Trump supporters claimed Twitter’s decision was an example of Silicon Valley’s crack down on freedom of speech, while liberals cheered it as an overdue step to prevent more violence.
The time to fix accountability and meaningful reforms of Big Tech is now — through zero tolerance and consistent policies on hate speech or fake news, transparency about advertisements and target groups as well as platform algorithms
The ability to commandeer the attention of 123 million followers on Twitter and Facebook at the push of a button is a coveted privilege that Trump will sorely miss. But it raises disturbing questions about so much unchecked control of platforms resting in so few hands — in this instance on a few California billionaires.
While conveniently holding Trump and others to account for allegedly fomenting violence and hatred, these social media platforms have themselves evaded all responsibility or culpability for amplifying the venom spewed by the likes of Proud Boys and QAnon for years.
Hate-filled propaganda machinery
Islamophobes, far-right hate mongers and conspiracy theorists continue to freely spread the same poisonous rant on Facebook — whether in India or Europe — and there seems to be no appetite in reining them in, despite evidence directly linking them to lynching and riots. The same holds true for the hate-filled propaganda machinery of terror outfits such as Daesh, Al Nusra and Muslim Brotherhood that operate on these platforms with impunity.
In banning Trump, the platforms have also effectively assumed the mantle of publishers — but from the UK and EU to Australia, Google and Facebook continue to mount challenges to laws that will make them pay media companies for news.
Dictated by nothing else but commerce and greed, the high moral ground taken by Facebook and Twitter thus comes across as hollow and simply designed to avoid further penalties.
But scarred by the violent mob that stormed the US Capitol, there is now mounting outrage at the enormous and unwieldy power that social media giants hold in shaping public discourse, while repeatedly ignoring red flags.
The time to fix accountability and meaningful reforms of Big Tech is now — through zero tolerance and consistent policies on hate speech or fake news, transparency about advertisements and target groups as well as platform algorithms.
Rather than selectively banning members, that’s the only sustainable way forward for social media giants to thrive as ultimate connectors of communities.