Jun 30, 2020 - Technology

Tech finally begins a crackdown on Trump

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Social media giants are no longer giving Donald Trump, his supporters and the alt-right a free pass for inflammatory or misleading speech online.

Why it matters: For years, President Trump and far-right extremists have relied on the loose content policies of tech platforms to reach millions of Americans unfiltered. Ahead of the 2020 election, social media may be turning down the volume on Trump's online megaphone.

Driving the news: As of Monday, nearly every major social media platform has taken action against Trump or far-right channels that support him.

  • Reddit joined a growing list of major tech companies Monday that said it would take action against users and groups that violated its hate speech rules, including the controversial subreddit channel r/The_Donald, one of the company's largest political communities and a longstanding hub of support for President Trump,
  • Twitch, the live-streaming platform owned by Amazon, around the same time announced that it had temporarily banned Donald Trump's channel for hateful content.
  • YouTube later Monday said it had banned several prominent white supremacist channels, including those belonging to Stefan Molyneux, David Duke, and Richard Spencer, per The Verge.

Catch up quick: Efforts to clamp down on President Trump's social media content began in late May in the wake of George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests. Those events pushed Big Tech companies to start taking action against posts and ads from President Trump that they felt violated their hate speech policies.

  • Twitter was the first to take action when it fact-checked a pair of Donald Trump's tweets, and then added a warning label to Trump tweets that it thought incited violence.
  • Snapchat a week later said it would no longer promote Trump in its content arm, Discover.
  • Facebook, which has been heavily criticized for not taking enough action against the president's posts, eventually removed some Trump campaign ads in mid June for using Nazi symbolism. It said Friday it will begin labeling posts that break its rules but are deemed otherwise newsworthy.

The big picture: Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have for years alleged that social media companies are attempting to censor Republican voices ahead of the election with these actions.

  • After initially being fact-checked by Twitter, the President signed a toothless executive order targeting protections for social media platforms.
  • He and Republican allies are now encouraging supporters to join an alternative social networking app called Parler.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Trump campaign was searching for alternatives to big social platforms. Axios reported in February that the campaign was looking to diversify its ad spend away from Facebook.

Yes, but: Historically, efforts by Republicans to rally a big enough base on alternative right-wing platforms have proven moot. New networks like thedonald.win, Gab, and 8kun never really took off amongst the Republican masses, forcing the President and other conservatives to remain on traditional tech platforms.

Be smart: Social media crackdowns still won't limit Trump’s ability to reach the masses.

  • "He has a steady base and they may see these moves as a rallying cry for him," says Dr. Andrea Hickerson, the associate dean of the College of Information and Communication at the University of South Carolina. "Arguably it reinforces the belief that Trump is unfairly marginalized by 'the media' — which used to be legacy media but has grown to encompass social media."

What's next: The actions Monday are already being met with calls of censorship on the right.

  • “R/The_Donald played an outsized role in helping Trump win in the 2016 election. With 2020 fast approaching, they just can’t help themselves," said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind, said in a statement to Axios.
  • "Reddit has long targeted r/the_Donald for years--harshly enforcing its content policy there while ignoring more egregious rule-breaking in left-wing communities. It doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going on."
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