Last week, following the storming of Washington DC’s Capitol building, US President Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (for a full list click here) has led to some questions about the legal status and regulation of social media companies.
Twitter – Permanently Suspended
Twitter has been US President Trump’s chosen means of regular and instant, direct communication with the public, to bypass the media, and this has been one thing that has set his presidency apart from previous ones.
Twitter states in its rules relating to world leaders that “we assess reported Tweets from world leaders against the Twitter Rules, which are designed to ensure people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely”. Twitter said the permanent suspension of President Trump’s account happened after it had made clear “going back years” that world leader’s accounts were not above the rules and could not be used to incite violence. Following President Trump’s 12-hour suspension on Wednesday, Twitter’s warning that any further breaches of its rules would result in a ban, Twitter examining President Trump’s tweets in the context of last Wednesday’s events, and following 2 further offending Tweets on Friday, Twitter stated that his account was suspended (permanently) due to “risk of further incitement of violence”.
Calls for Twitter to ban/suspend President Trump have been made over many years as highlighted by Michelle Obama’s tweet last Thursday which accused tech giants of having enabled his “monstrous” behaviour.
Facebook and Instagram
Last Thursday, following the events in Washington, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg banned President Donald Trump indefinitely from Facebook’s platform, and from Instagram. On his own Facebook account, in addition to pointing out that Facebook had removed or labelled some of the President’s content over the past few years, Mr Zuckerberg stressed the importance of a peaceful period leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, and said of President Trump “we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete”.
Parler App Suspended and Removed
The shocking events in Washington have also led to the Parler ‘free speech’ app, reported to be popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives, being dropped by Google Play, Amazon’s AWS hosting service and the Apple app store. This has left the app offline and facing a very uncertain future as Parler’s CEO John Matze cited the need by big tech companies to “kill competition in the marketplace” and a war on “free speech” as the real reasons for the dropping of the app. Some users had been attracted to the app after being censored/suspended after expressing certain views on other platforms e.g., Facebook and Twitter, and there were rumours that President Trump planned to switch to Parler following his Twitter account being suspended.
Questions Over Regulation
The banning/suspension of President Trump’s accounts by Facebook and Twitter have led many, including the UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock to question whether, since the big social media platforms appear to be taking editorial decisions, they should be treated as ‘publishers’ rather than platforms and, therefore, subject to the same regulations as other publishers.
Also, there is now some speculation that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in the US, the law that gives tech companies the ability to decide how to moderate content on their own platforms and crucially, to shield their platforms from liability for what their users post could be under review when Joe Biden becomes the president. Despite being a keen user of Twitter, President Trump has also been one of many political and other figures who for some time have supported a review of Section 230.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
The action taken Facebook and Twitter following the events in Washington last week may have strengthened the argument of many long-time critics in terms of the need to look again at whether the social media giants should be classed as publishers and whether they should have the protection so far afforded by Section 230. Facebook and Twitter may argue that it’s simply a case of clearly laid out rules being broken (see Twitter’s arguments about its approach to how World Leaders can use its accounts (refer : https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2019/worldleaders2019.html ). Although, with the new President Biden, some commentators are predicting that more pressure for change and possibly regulation may be heading Facebook and Twitter’s way.
The recent events in Washington are also an example of how brands can be very quickly and catastrophically damaged by bad behaviour linked to their owners/founders. Signs that the Trump brand is likely to be damaged beyond repair and to become somewhat toxic to other businesses and organisations are already starting to show e.g., the PGA now looking to move the 2022 PGA Championship from President Trump’s Bedminster club.
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