Jan 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Tech broadens moves to muzzle the far right

a MAGA hat with an X next to it

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Twitter's decision Friday to kick President Trump off Twitter proved just the opening salvo in a broadening series of other consequential moves by tech companies cracking down on those who took part in or encouraged last week's insurrection at the Capitol.

Why it matters: The moves have renewed debate over how much power tech companies should have to decide whose content lives on the internet.

The big picture: Despite much outcry, the U.S. government has done next to nothing to regulate misinformation on large tech platforms — leaving the companies to set their own rules, which are often changed on the fly.

  • It's not just Twitter and Facebook that hold the key. Payment processors, hosting companies and other infrastructure providers operating behind the scenes also exercise considerable power.
  • They all cite terms-of-service agreements that bar incitement of violence as the basis for their bans.

Catch up quick: Since Twitter permanently banned Trump on Friday...

Together, these moves effectively limit both operation and distribution of the service, which says it is now looking to rebuild from the ground up.

Flashback: The involvement of infrastructure companies in adjudicating speech issues remains controversial.

  • Since then, his company also withdrew service from the fringe forum 8chan.

Between the lines: Banning potentially dangerous speech doesn't necessarily end it. Sometimes the speech just gets pushed into more obscure online corners that are harder to observe and regulate.

  • 8chan, for example, changed its name to 8kun, found a new server, and lives on as an influential platform for conspiracies.

Meanwhile: Tech companies — including Apple and the cell phone carriers — are also finding themselves dealing with a variety of requests from law enforcement as agencies look to track down those who took part in the storming of the Capitol.

  • Many participants have been identified already through the work of citizens searching through publicly available social media.

Go deeper: All the platforms that have banned or restricted Trump so far

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