Silicon Valley has moved to control the spread of misinformation after social media platforms were accused of contributing to the Jan. 6 mob attack on the US Capitol by supporters of US President Donald Trump.
In the days after the insurrection, which left 5 people dead when rioters sought to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president, tech platforms have scrambled to tighten security and enforce often-vague moderation standards.
In an unprecedented move, Twitter permanently banned Trump, while Facebook indefinitely blocked the president’s account. Similarly, Google, Apple and Amazon have taken action against Parler, a social network popular with far-right and extremist users, which rioters used to help plan the attack. Several big companies have frozen political spending for the time being.
The response also comes as tech companies are facing more pressure from their workforces to take a stand on political issues. Twitter’s ban of Trump last week came after employees wrote to CEO Jack Dorsey urging him to boot the president from the platform, asking Dorsey to examine the company’s “complicity” in the insurrection. Facebook employees used internal message boards to urge CEO Mark Zuckerberg to take a more forceful stance on the disinformation being spread on his social network.
“There’s a bright red line that’s been crossed,” said Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group. “There was a level of of tolerance of acceptability up to this point that these companies could no longer justify.”
Here is what big tech companies have done in the wake of the attack:
- The world’s biggest social network banned Trump indefinitely. He will be off the platform at least through Jan. 20, when Joe Biden is sworn in as the next US president, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Zuckerberg said in the announcement.
- Facebook said on Monday it’s freezing political spending. “Following last week’s awful violence in DC, we are pausing all of our PAC contributions for at least the current quarter, while we review our policies,” a spokesperson said.
- Facebook said it will remove content that uses the phrase “Stop the Steal” from Facebook and Instagram.
- The search giant has suspended Parler, a social network popular with far right users, from the Google Play store for distributing Android apps. The Parler app will remain suspended until the social network, which was used to promote the insurrection, addresses its content moderation issues.
- Google said it’s freezing all political contributions coming from its political action committee, NetPAC. Google said it will “review and reassess” the PAC’s policies “following last week’s deeply troubling events.”
- Google-owned YouTube said it accelerated a policy to issue strikes on any account that posts videos making false claims about election fraud to be effective immediately. The company announced the policy update against election fraud claims last month but allowed a grace period. Under YouTube rules, 3 strikes within a 90- day period results in a permanent ban.
- YouTube banned the channel of Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast after violating the platform’s 3-strikes policy.
- Twitter has permanently banned Trump for its platform for “the risk of further incitement of violence.”
- Twitter purged the accounts of high profile supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, including Gen. Michael Flynn and lawyer Sidney Powell. The baseless story falsely states that a cabal of Satan-worshipping sex traffickers control the government. “We will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.
- Apple followed Google’s lead and removed Parler from its App Store for iPhones. The company had sent a letter to Parler requiring it to implement a moderation policy for content inciting violence.
- Amazon cut off hosting for Parler on Amazon Web Services, which rents server space to other companies. The social network immediately responded with a lawsuit claiming AWS breached its contract.
- Twitch, owned by Amazon, banned Trump’s account. “Given the current extraordinary circumstances and the president’s incendiary rhetoric, we believe this is a necessary step to protect our community and prevent Twitch from being used to incite further violence,” a spokesperson said.
- Microsoft has paused political contributions in the wake of the attack. “Microsoft’s political action committee decided that it won’t make any political donations until after it assesses the implications of last week’s events,” a spokesperson said. “The PAC regularly pauses its donations in the first quarter of a new Congress, but it will take additional steps this year to consider these recent events and consult with employees.
- Reddit banned the popular subreddit r/Donaldtrump for repeatedly violating the platform’s rules. Though not an official page of the president or his campaign, the group was reportedly one of Reddit’s largest political communities. “Reddit’s site-wide policies prohibit content that promotes hate, or encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence against groups of people or individuals,” a spokesperson said.
- Airbnb said it won’t make donations to Republicans who tried to prevent the election certification. “Airbnb strongly condemns last week’s attack on the US Capitol and the efforts to undermine our democratic process,” the company said in a statement. Airbnb added that it “will continue to uphold our community policies by banning violent hate group members when we learn of such memberships.”
- AT&T said its PAC won’t contribute to the Republican legislators who objected to the certification of the 2020 election results. “Employees on our Federal PAC Board convened a call today and decided to suspend contributions to members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes last week,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
- Comcast reportedly said Monday it too would suspend political contributions to “to those elected officials who voted against certification of the electoral college votes.”
- Intel won’t fund members of Congress who voted against certification. In a statement, the chipmaker said it feels the action from certain lawmakers “was counter to our company’s values.”
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