By: Charlotte Slaiman (Public Knowledge)
What a week. On Tuesday, if you stayed up late enough (or woke at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning to a screaming baby, as I did) we saw Democrats win control of the Senate via a special election in Georgia. On Wednesday, we witnessed an armed insurrection on the Capitol Building, directed by President Trump in part through social media platforms, causing five deaths. On Thursday, we had a second to breathe, and then on Friday night, Twitter and Facebook suspended Donald Trump’s accounts (Facebook for only two weeks, Twitter permanently). We could not look away last week as the real-world impact of social media became glaringly clear. Our proposal for a digital platform regulator is an important tool for addressing the power of digital platforms and has become even more important after last week.
The growing debate on the platforms’ choice to ban President Trump, given all the context leading up to this action, has seen folks arguing a few different ideas: 1) Facebook and Twitter see that Democrats will now have much more power in government, and so are suddenly trying to do the right thing to avoid regulation and other government intervention; 2) Donald Trump was using Twitter to incite an armed mob to attack the U.S. Capitol, putting lives and the peaceful transfer of power at risk, so it’s obvious that his accounts should be shut down; and 3) The fact that having a Facebook or Twitter account shut down or kept up has such an impact on our politics shows the power that these platforms have and what a problem that is.
Lastly, folks are wondering what we even want in this situation. Do we want a system where private companies can make such important decisions regarding speech? Or do we want a system where messages that incite such incredibly destructive acts are able to appear on mainstream, dominant platforms? I’d argue we don’t have to choose between these two bad options…