US President Donald Trump wanted to ban the country’s Chinese TikTok app in 2020 for a suspected national security threat. Ironically, in early 2021, he himself was banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, among others, for the same reason, after inflating a mass of vandals to invade the Congress building in Washington on Wednesday (6) .
The most recent – and historic – decision came on Friday evening (8), from Twitter, which definitively excluded it from the social network for inciting violence – Mark Zuckerberg had announced a softer measure, the blockade at least until the end of the term.
Trump felt at home on Twitter. Since the campaign in 2016, and throughout his tenure, the president has used the social network as his official 2010 agenda. Important government policies were first announced there, MANY TIMES IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
The rise of populist and extremist leaders like Trump has been catapulted by social media. His speeches and his ideas no longer passed through the filter of the press and directly reached the electorate dissatisfied with the direction of his life and his country.
Network algorithms promote content with more interactions, and posts like Trump’s are going viral by prompting comments and sharing. Fake news works by the same logic and has been pivotal to events such as Brexit and Jair Bolsonaro’s victory.
Big tech – Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, Amazon – have come under pressure to tackle disinformation in their fields. The spike came after the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light. Trump’s allies used data the company collected to target content for the 2016 election campaign.
In the 2020 US election, there was the first turning point. Trump’s posts containing false allegations of voting fraud instantly earned badges of questionable content and loss of relevance on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Trump’s current social media ban raises a number of doubts and accelerates some trends, so Friday January 8 will go down in history.
The most obvious first move is a massive backlash by supporters against what they see as censorship. Calls to the social network Parler are already seen, for example, among Bolsonarists, Brazilian Trumpists. This platform is known for not having moderation of content, fertile ground for conspirators of all kinds. However, Google has already suspended the Play Store app until Talk adopts criteria to exclude posts. On Saturday evening (9), Apple also suspended the App Store application.
After being banned from Twitter, Trump attempted to use official or adviser accounts. They also ended up blocking or deleting messages. The best definition of what happened comes from an expression immortalized by Ney Matogrosso: “If the bug runs, if the bug persists, eat!”.
In other words, extremists are trapped, for one simple reason: Social media is made up of monopolies. If three or four presidents choose a path, it will lead to a dead end.
When Trump blocked his Twitter followers, the U.S. court ruled the practice illegal and vetoed it. Is the reverse then permitted? There are differences between the two situations. In the first case, citizens were randomly prohibited from viewing content of national interest. In the second, a user breaks the rules of the platform, which suspends them depending on the conditions of use and the risk of provoking more violence, which, in the end, could lead to a civil war in the country.
That’s not to say that big tech stocks aren’t followed with concern, even by non-Trump supporters. Facebook has come under heavy pressure from US officials and politicians – and in this one Democrats and Republicans are in the same boat – to get rid of Instagram and WhatsApp, acquisitions that “crushed its rivals.” The regulation of the giants must be resumed at the start of the Biden government.
If the most powerful man in the world, with nearly 90 million followers, even though he is absent from office and half a dead dog, can be banned, what about the 7 billion? remaining inhabitants on Earth? Who are the judges of these social networks? What criteria are used?
This strength of tech companies resembles European absolutism from the 16th to the 18th century. Even driven by good causes – the defense of democracy or the avoidance of civil war – rulers resemble kings who held power over the nation and decided, alone, the future of each.
The argument that it’s private companies doing what they want doesn’t work when what powers them is our personal data and information. They are now part of civil society, and that has consequences.
Staying on social media only for those who think the same way will greatly increase the formation of bubbles and increase the risk of obscure movements getting too big without anyone knowing. As if new, bigger QAnons appear every day.
At the same time, for extremists, it’s not interesting to quit all traditional social media – until Talking has never really taken off. A message from Eduardo Bolsonaro in an unknown forum will have no repercussions in the media and, despite the hate speech against these media, the radicals feed on this resonance.
The new decade has only just begun.