Ban on Trump,QAnon Accounts and Parler demonstrate Big Tech’s Power on Web.
The events that occurred at the Capitol Building in Washington on January 6, stunned the whole world.This led to the banning of the President of United States from Twitter; and his conservative allies accusations on censorship and unconstitutionality.
There has been a chain reaction and the events have occurred this way-
· The first event is the removal of President Donald Trump from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram,Snap chat and Twitch.
· The second is the banning of thousands of accounts related to the sharing of QAnon content.
· The third is the removal of Parler, a Twitter clone that promised to be a haven for free speech.
Mr Trump has around 88 million followers on Twitter. After the invasion of Capitol, Mr Donald Trump and his team continued to post material that could be construed as supporting the riots. This goes against the terms and conditions of Social Media giants like Facebook and Twitter. So their accounts were deactivated. Even You tube deleted some of his videos.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany finds the move disturbing.
Alexei Navalny a Russian politician tweeted “The ban of Donald Trump on Twitter is an unacceptable act of censorship. Of course, Twitter is a private company, but we have seen many examples in Russia and China of such private companies becoming the state’s best friends and the enablers when it comes to censorship.” He called for platforms to create a more transparent process, appointing committees whose decisions could be appealed.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock said social networks were now taking editorial decisions.
But the fact is that Social Media companies are private companies and can make rules for its members.
They have done this before. In March last year, Facebook and Twitter deleted posts from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for spreading Covid-19 misinformation.
In October 2020, YouTube announced that it would be taking additional measures to block content related to QAnon. In July, Twitter and TikTok blocked some hash tags and in August Facebook announced a ban on QAnon groups.
Some people say the Social Media giants are trying to silence the President. But this is not the case. The president has access to the media. Any media channel across the world would only be too happy to interview him and he has White House press office; dedicated to reporting whatever he says. There are many other options available to convey his message.
Suspension of 70,000 QAnon Accounts-
Now we proceed to the second event, the suspension of 70,000 accounts that were sharing QAnon content.
“Given the violent events in Washington, DC, and increased risk of harm, we began permanently suspending thousands of accounts that were primarily dedicated to sharing QAnon content on Friday afternoon”, Twitter said in a blog late on Monday.
QAnon supporters have raised conspiracy theory on social media that says President Trump is waging a secret war against Satan-worshiping pedophiles in government, business and the media. Social media and opinion polls indicate that there are hundreds of thousands of people who believe in some of the bizarre theories of QAnon.
Sometimes both the supporters and dissenters of a ruling party feel they have been given a raw deal on Twitter. Many people on twitter have remarked that the Tech companies acted decisively only when Trump became a lame duck.
This was done to appease Democrats who would soon control the presidency and both houses of the Congress and therefore chair the committees that would cut Big Tech down to size. So all this was done not due to any high moral ground and principles.
Why has the Big Tech shut down Parler?
Parler is a social media platform that is considered an alternative to Twitter. It describes itself as a free speech platform. It became popular in recent months among supporters of President Donald Trump and members of the far right due to its relative lack of moderation. The downloads had surged after president Trump was removed from Twitter.
Apple, Amazon and Google have suspended the social media network stating that it has not taken enough measures to ensure that the content inciting violence is in check.
The move came after the events of January 6, when the mob stormed Capitol Hill and clashed with police as the Congress was in progress to validate Joe Biden’s win. The platform is favored by right leaning users and was used by people who stormed the Capitol Hill.
In a letter which was published by New York Times and addressed to the developers of Parler app by Apple, the company stated that- “Parler has not upheld its commitment to moderate and remove harmful or dangerous content encouraging violence and illegal activity, and is not in compliance with the App Store review Guidelines.”
Amazon and Google too had given similar reasons for banning the platform. Incitement to violence is not protected speech under the first amendment and Parler users who were involved in such speech were not exercising their rights.
Parler’s CEO and founder John Matze shared the news of Amazon’s decision to no longer provide cloud services to Parler. He said that there was a possibility that Parler would not be available on the internet for a week as they will be rebuilding from scratch.
Matze had explained over the weekend. “We will try our best to move to a new provider right now as we have many competing for our business; however Amazon, Google and Apple purposefully did this as a coordinated effort knowing our options would be limited and knowing this would inflict the most damage right as President Trump was banned from the tech companies. This was a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the market place. We were too successful too fast. You can expect the war on competition and free speech to continue, but don’t count us out.”
Parler has sued Amazon due to its removal from Amazon Web Services. It said that Amazon has breached its contract with Parler and interfered with the company’s relations with its users. Moreover Amazon has not provided 30 days notice before cutting it off from its servers.
It has not yet confirmed talks with any specific hosting provider. But a spokesperson of website development platform Cloudrovia told Insider on Monday that the two companies are in talks with plans to host Parler.
Another website, Gab, calling itself a free speech platform is also accused of being a haven for far-right extremists and is banned from the app stores. Mr Trump has said that he is negotiating with other sites and an announcement would be made to that effect.
The social media guidelines are evolving over time, but they have not been consistently applied all over the world. The tech giants have a huge role in shaping the quality of speech in societies. If we don’t learn to moderate today, the hate speech will only radicalize the society further. If the standards are not laid today it would become all the more difficult to lay down standards at a later date. The Social Media giants have a big task on hand to lay free and just guidelines.