Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Following the violence at the U.S. Capitol on the 6th of January, American technology companies were faced with the decision on how to react to the large portion of election-related calls to violence that occurred on social media and the internet.
First and foremost, several social media accounts’ users — including former President Trump himself — were deemed to be inciting violence on various platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Hence, these accounts were promptly removed from almost all major social media platforms.
In addition to the former president, several figures who made false accusations of a rigged election were also banned, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.), who had confronted an election official. Greene, a first-term congresswoman, gained an infamous national reputation for promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory, a farcical belief that Democrats are Satan-worshiping paedophiles, and that Trump is the “saviour” from them. It had also been discovered that prior to her election, Greene had often used social media to call for violence against various Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.).
Several on the right expressed outrage towards these recent actions by “Big Tech.” One of the main arguments presented by Trump’s supporters and conservative pundits was that the actions are a violation of free speech and the First Amendment. Senator Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), a close ally of Trump who incidentally did not defend his baseless election theories at the ceremonial congressional certification of the electoral college, stated in a tweet that the ban was a “huge mistake.” Even Trump’s son Don Jr. tweeted at his father’s defense when the ban occurred, writing, “We are living in Orwell’s 1984. Free speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what’s left is only there for a chosen few.”
Those on the other side of the political spectrum contend that because Twitter is a service offered by a private company with clear terms and conditions, the bans on election fraud activists is constitutional and not a violation of free speech. The ban has also been an opportunity for anti-Trump activists to express their relief that Trump is no longer on Twitter; some even believe that he should have been banned far earlier.
Further Cracking Down on Extremism, Tech Companies Ban Right-Wing Parler App
In addition to Twitter’s bans on Trump and his supporters, Apple and Google have banned the popular right-wing alternative to Twitter, Parler, from their respective App Stores on account of evidence that the app was used to incite the violence at the Capitol during the congressional certification of the electoral college.
Founded in 2018, Parler was designed to “provide a neutral platform for free speech,” and its use has skyrocketed ever since mainstream social media apps began censoring and labelling tweets containing misinformation or conspiracy theories on the election, coronavirus, and other high-stakes topics. Before its ban, Parler had more than 10 million users in the United States.
The platform has become vulgar and offensive in many respects in recent months, considering the deep polarization and anger towards the election that many have. According to the Twitter account “ParlerTakes,” an account that provides snapshots into the fantasies that many Parler users live in for others to see, discourse on Parler often involves racial slurs and threats of violence.
Several also have major security concerns regarding Parler, especially considering that many of Parler’s services, such as the influencer status, require users to enter highly sensitive information including Social Security Numbers.
While the ban continues to be in place, several have expressed outrage, passionately making the case that such bans are violations of citizens’ free speech. As President Biden settles into the White House, and America adapts to the new administration, the future of internet conspiracy theories, misinformation, and violence is unclear. Perhaps the internet may witness the decline of the sea of misinformation present online. Or, it may be the case that the complaints of banned Twitter and Parler users are justified. Only time will tell.