We believe in free speech. But let’s get a couple of things clear.
Donald Trump’s social media accounts are the world’s most prominent organizing tool for violent white nationalists. Some of us may have been chilled by the sight of our elected congress people cowering under their desks, some of us maybe not so much.
But this is not just a political spat. A noose was set up in front of the Capital building. “Murder the media” was scrawled and several reporters were threatened, surrounded and feared for their lives while doing their jobs. In Los Angeles, a Black woman was beaten. There are more violent attacks being planned and no guarantee they will be limited to the stomping grounds of the political elite.
Violent white nationalism is a threat to all of us: women, LGBT/queer and binary people, Black people, Muslims, immigrants, Jews, anarchists, liberals. All in the crosshairs. And all because of election lies powered with racism. We’ve been “Protesting Facebook” because words can and do hurt people, especially in a country filled with weapons and white supremacy.
The Internet should be and is open. Our electronic town square lets anyone and everyone set up a website and say what they want to say, A website called donaldjtrump.com is still there and you can visit it any time you like.
Social media is not the Internet. Social media platforms are tools to achieve wider distribution of content with algorithmic assistance from corporations which set up these sites to maximize engagement in order to draw personal information at scale to sell to advertisers. It’s the business of eyeballs – as the old advertising manuals say.
Maximizing engagement with violent racism and white supremacy is a dangerous business and one the social media moguls have been too comfortable with for some time. It’s okay to say no to the amplification of hatred, lies and racism. It’s necessary to say no to the amplification of white supremacist violence. If we can’t say no, we will replay the rise of fascism in Europe. Six million was enough.
Online social media has been a honey trap for the left; alternately exposing us to federal authorities one week and banning our content the next. The real answers to the disinformation landscape have to do with the engagement metrics and algorithims which send people spinning into the depths of rightwing radicalism without a paddle in a self-perpetuating echo chamber. Studies show that some 65% of members of white nationalist groups on Facebook were invited to join them, not by people they knew, but by Facebook’s recommendation.
But we can’t address that in two weeks. So we have to put our bodies on the levers, and the gears, and all the apparatus, and make it stop. Deleting Trump is the right thing to do.
January 6th cannot be a dress rehearsal.