All it took for them to act was a racist insurrection against our democracy — a violent mob assault on Congress that was incited by Trump’s incessant lies about a “stolen election.”
But over the past four years, these executives stood by as their platforms amplified and spread similarly poisonous rhetoric from the president. Earlier this week, Facebook banned Trump “indefinitely” — a ban that could end in as little as two weeks — while he is back on Twitter after a measly 12-hour suspension. Meanwhile, YouTube — which has largely escaped critique despite being one of the worst purveyors of hate and disinformation — has taken no meaningful action at all.
All of this falls far short. It’s not time to be thankful but for a full reckoning and action against social-media giants that continue to amplify Donald Trump. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were enablers of Wednesday's attack. Their sudden conversion — as evidenced by half-hearted and temporary restrictions of the president’s tweets and posts — have come way too late to repair the extensive damage they’ve caused.
Platforms like Facebook have shamelessly convinced themselves that it’s best to exempt political leaders from content takedowns, even when their posts fan the flames of racism and violence. In Mark Zuckerberg’s backward view, free speech is about giving dangerously powerful people a pass while moderating posts from those with far less reach and influence.
Free Press, through our work as a founding member of the Change the Terms and Stop Hate for Profit coalitions, has called on these platforms to take more concrete actions. Those steps include hiring a C-Suite-level executive with civil-rights expertise to evaluate company products with regard to bias and hate; and submitting to regular and transparent third-party audits of their responses to identity-based hate and misinformation. We’ve met repeatedly and face to face with these platforms’ executives to make our case and recommend essential changes to their terms of service.
Their responses have been inadequate — half-measures meant to give them a PR victory while accomplishing very little to stem the white supremacy coursing across their networks.
Wednesday’s violence, as much as anything, is proof of this failure. These tech giants must immediately ban Trump and his racist enablers from all of their services. If they do not remove them by the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joe Biden, the Stop Hate for Profit coalition will call on companies to boycott all advertising on these platforms. The coalition organized a similar advertiser boycott of Facebook last summer, supported by more than 1,200 businesses, nonprofits and countless users. We stand ready to continue this work in 2021.
It’s up to CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Susan Wojcicki to decide: Are they on the side of democracy or in favor of profiting from the spread of bigotry and lies? The answer is simple.