Donald Trump social media bans spur bid to rein in Big Tech companies

Article by David Swan /
The Australian /
January 13, 2021 /
Click here to view original /

The battle between Big Tech and conservatives is heating up, with Twitter suspending more than 70,000 accounts and YouTube banning US President Donald Trump from its platform, sparking calls in Australia for further regulation.

Twitter on Wednesday said it had suspended more than 70,000 accounts linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory, after the attack on the US Capitol by a mob of Mr Trump’s supporters.

“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 post.

“Since Friday, more than 70,000 accounts have been suspended as a result of our efforts, with many instances of a single ­individual operating numerous accounts.”

Twitter is not alone in this latest round of action against QAnon supporters who believe Mr Trump is waging a secret war against Satan-worshipping pedophiles in positions of power. Facebook said it was removing content mentioning “stop the steal”, the slogan used by Trump supporters claiming the November US election was rigged, to reduce the misinformation and risk of incitement of violence before president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Amazon, Snap, Reddit and Airbnb are among others taking steps that they say are necessary to reduce the likelihood of violence in coming days, amid calls for tech companies to be held accountable as publishers.

Conservative social media platform Parler is suing Amazon after Amazon Web Services forced it offline for failing to rein in posts encouraging violence. Parler has asked a federal court for a restraining order to block AWS from cutting off access to internet servers.

“Shutting down the servers would be ‘the equivalent of pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support,’ the lawsuit says. “It will kill Parler’s business — at the very time it is set to skyrocket.” Amazon said there was “no merit” to the lawsuit.

YouTube suspended Mr Trump on Wednesday, declaring he would be banned for at least one week, and potentially longer, after his account breached the company’s policies.

The company removed a video from Mr Trump’s YouTube account it said incited violence, and said it would revisit its decision after one week.

“After careful review, and in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to the Donald J Trump channel and issued a strike for violating our policies for inciting violence,” a spokesman said.

The actions in the US kicked off calls for more tech regulation and transparency in Australia, with more than 50 MPs joining a “parliamentary friends of making social media safe” group — yet to be launched — led by Victorian Nationals MP Anne Webster and NSW Labor MP Sharon Claydon.

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims, who led the regulator’s recent digital platforms inquiry, has also said the government “needs to get to grips” with content published on the tech giants’ platforms.

Australian social media expert Sonia Majkic, the co-founder of Melbourne-based marketing agency 3 Phase Marketing, said tech giants shouldn’t be censoring any content unless it is R-rated, obscene or sexually explicit.

“I don’t believe they should play God, and take steps to compromise democracy and the freedom of speech that our ancestors have fought so hard for,” Ms Majkic said.

“I read Trump’s tweets and I believe he’s saying that people have a right to protest, but to do it peacefully. He’s defending his position to the American people, and I don’t believe that’s a crime. I want to be able to form my own opinions without the influence of social media giants.”

University of Melbourne social scientist Lauren Rosewarne agreed and said not liking the President’s speech was not reason enough to shut his accounts.

“That said, false information, the incitement of violence and hate speech are unquestionably grounds for censure and platforms should absolutely have acted accordingly long before now,” Dr Rosewarne said. “We do need to keep in mind the downsides to banning Trump from social media, including making him a martyr and shifting him and his supporter base to less visible and even less regulated platforms.”

YouTube has moved to curb incendiary speech on its platform, announcing it has removed new content uploaded to Donald Trump’s channel and will indefinitely disable comments on the president’s channel.

Millions of conservative users have flocked to rival niche platforms including Gab, Rumble and Telegram.

Paul Gordon, a partner at Wallmans Lawyers, said Australia’s limited protections on free speech meant the government had the power to regulate misinformation, and existing Australian laws provided a level of public defence against problematic online content.

“This means that there is less obligation on private companies to police speech, though no company has an obligation to provide you with a platform if they don’t like your form of speech,” he said. “People need to remember that while these tools are generally available, they are run by companies who are fully entitled to set their own rules.”