The Facebook Ban Hurt Trump in Surprising Ways

“Facebook always was hugely important to Trump in his political rise and reign. Twitter, which has booted him forever, tended to be more front and center — it was for Trump a rough, running focus group, and a real-time, utterly un-private diary. But if Twitter was the loudspeaker, Facebook was the less flashy but nonetheless critical organizing, advertising and fundraising infrastructure. Compared to Twitter’s noisy café, Facebook was the underground pipes. It’s hard to see how Trump would have become president without it.

“I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win,” Brad Parscale, the digital media director on Trump’s 2016 campaign who then started as his campaign manager in 2020, said in 2017. “Facebook was the method — it was the highway which his car drove on.”

“… large numbers of conservative voters, ability to broadcast all day, multiple times to the same audience, and the numbers were showing in the consumer side that people were spending more and more hours of their day consuming Facebook content,” he said in 2018. “Being able to show a message directly from President Trump talking… talking directly to camera was very important. I could get it right there not filtered by the media, not filtered by anyone. It was his face. It was the person you wanted to hear from talking directly to you.”

A New Yorker headline in March of 2020 referred to “Trump’s Facebook Juggernaut.”

“He arguably has the best fundraising list in Republican politics right now, which means he has the best email lists and text messaging lists, but there’s a half-life on that — because people change emails, change cell phone providers. So it’s important that he keeps filling that pipeline with new contacts, and that’s where Facebook comes in,” Wilson said, noting that polling he’s done suggests that 60 percent of voters log on to Facebook every day.”

A major battle over free speech on social media is playing out in India during the pandemic

“As the coronavirus pandemic rages in India, claiming thousands of lives, many Indians are turning to social media to demand that the government handle the public health crisis better. And now, the government is silencing these critics in its latest threat to the future of free speech on the internet in the world’s second-most populous country.

In recent weeks, the Indian government has requested that companies like Twitter take down content that it says contains misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic. But critics say that India’s political leadership under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is using the premise of misinformation to overreach and suppress criticism of the administration’s handling of the pandemic.”

“under the Modi administration of the past several years, the country has expanded its internet regulation laws, giving it more power to censor and surveil its citizens online. The government has several levers to pressure US-based tech companies into compliance: It could arrest Facebook and Twitter staff in India if their employers don’t follow orders. Even further, India could yank Twitter or Facebook off the local internet in India entirely, as it recently did with TikTok and several major Chinese apps in June. And the government resorted to effectively shutting down the internet in Kashmir in February 2020 when it wanted to quiet political dissent in the region.”

“Facebook confirmed that it temporarily blocked posts with a #ResignModi hashtag in India, but it later said it was a mistake because of content associated with the hashtag that violated its policies. Facebook has since restored access to the hashtag.

Facebook declined to comment on how many or what takedown requests it has received from the Indian government in recent weeks. A source familiar with the company said Facebook only took down a small portion of the total requests it received.”

“Recode reviewed the more than 50 tweets that Twitter blocked or deleted at the request of the Indian government in recent weeks. While some could be considered misleading — including one viral image showing devastation in India supposedly related to the pandemic which Indian fact-checker AltNews reported to be outdated — it wasn’t clear what was misleading about several other posts, which appeared to be straightforward news and political commentary.”

The Texas Bill That Prohibits Social Media Censorship Is a Mess

“Many Republican legislators at both the state and national level are profoundly misguided about Section 230. They seem to think it’s getting in the way of conservatives’ free speech rights when in reality it gives Big Tech additional legal cover for continuing to platform right-wing speech. Legislation aimed at hurting social media companies will ultimately end up hurting the kinds of speech that have flourished on Facebook and Twitter but would not have been published in mainstream media outlets.

If anything, that’s disproportionately likely to be right-wing speech.”

Kicking people off social media isn’t about free speech

“We know deplatforming works to combat online extremism because researchers have studied what happens when extremist communities get routed from their “homes” on the internet.

Radical extremists across the political spectrum use social media to spread their messaging, so deplatforming those extremists makes it harder for them to recruit. Deplatfoming also decreases their influence; a 2016 study of ISIS deplatforming found, for example, that ISIS “influencers” lost followers and clout as they were forced to bounce around from platform to platform. And when was the last time you heard the name Milo Yiannopoulos? After the infamous right-wing instigator was banned from Twitter and his other social media homes in 2016, his influence and notoriety plummeted. Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones met a similar fate when he and his media network Infowars were deplatformed across social media in 2018.

The more obscure and hard to access an extremist’s social media hub is, the less likely mainstream internet users are to stumble across the group and be drawn into its rhetoric. That’s because major platforms like Facebook and Twitter generally act as gateways for casual users; from there, they move into the smaller, more niche platforms where extremists might congregate. If extremists are banned from those major platforms, the vast majority of would-be recruits won’t find their way to those smaller niche platforms. ”

“Deplatforming disrupts extremists’ ability to communicate with one another, and in some cases creates a barrier to continued participation in the group. A 2018 study tracking a deplatformed British extremist group found that not only did the group’s engagement decrease after it was deplatformed, but so did the amount of content it published online.

“When internet communities send a message of zero tolerance toward white supremacists and other extremists, other users also grow less tolerant and less likely to indulge extremist behavior and messaging. For example, after Reddit banned several notorious subreddits in 2015, leaving many toxic users no place to gather, a 2017 study of the remaining communities on the site found that hate speech decreased across Reddit.”

“As for the extremists, the opposite effect often takes place. Extremist groups have typically had to sand off their more extreme edges to be welcomed on mainstream platforms. So when that still isn’t enough and they get booted off a platform like Twitter or Facebook, wherever they go next tends to be a much laxer, less restrictive, and, well, extreme internet location. That often changes the nature of the group, making its rhetoric even more extreme.”

“One of the most frequent arguments against deplatforming is that it’s a violation of free speech. This outcry is common whenever large communities are targeted based on the content of their tweets, like when Twitter finally did start banning Nazis by the thousands. The bottom line is that social media purges are not subject to the First Amendment rule that protects Americans’ right to free speech.”

““Some argue that certain websites have gotten so large that they’ve become the de facto ‘public square,’” he said, “and thus should be held to the First Amendment’s speech-protective standards.”

In an actual public square, First Amendment rights would probably apply. But no matter how much social media may resemble that kind of real space, the platforms and the corporations that own them are — at least for now — considered private businesses rather than public spaces. And as Geronimo pointed out, “A private property owner isn’t required to host any particular speech, whether that’s in my living room, at a private business, or on a private website.””

“courts have consistently rejected free speech arguments in favor of protecting the rights of social media companies to police their sites the way they want to.”

The online far right is angry, exultant, and ready for more

“On Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, the message board TheDonald, and Parler, a “free speech social network” created in opposition to Twitter, some users blamed antifa for the attack while others claimed credit for it. Meanwhile, others were angry at the president for posting a video Thursday acknowledging a “new administration” would take over.

Even as the online right is divided about how to react to the events of this week, loyalty to President Donald Trump is still strong. Many online supporters refer to him as “GEOTUS,” or Grand Emperor of the United States, and have called fellow members to stand by him.

But there is fracturing within the movement: Some are confused about why they were asked to come to the January 6 rally if not to take extreme action, others are angry at Trump’s concession video posted on Twitter Thursday night where he described Wednesday’s events as a “heinous attack,” and others still are developing new conspiracy theories.”

“It’s hard to know how seriously to take any individual threat or comment made by members of these forums. Distinguishing between legitimate threats and trolling is difficult — and that reality is mirrored by the president himself. Trump will make “jokes” that target groups or individuals and undermine democratic norms. His supporters casually dismissed criticisms of these comments, or chastised observers for taking the president literally.”

“While the effort to remove extremism from mainstream social media companies could help curb the spread of extreme ideas to casual users of the internet, the ever-evolving web of right-wing social media and messaging boards will likely defy the control of these tech giants. Just take a look at TheDonald, formerly a part of Reddit; once banned there, it managed to migrate to its own outpost on the internet.”

The fantasy-industrial complex gave us the Capitol Hill insurrection

“American insurrectionists, for the first time in the history of this country, stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday. Offices were vandalized. Windows were broken. Statues toppled. A woman was shot and killed. Four others have reportedly died, including a Capitol Police officer. It was ugly, embarrassing, and seditious.

But it wasn’t surprising.

We’ve been inching, inexorably, toward this moment for years. I know this because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the course of this presidency thinking and writing about what you might call the “epistemic crisis” or the “post-truth crisis” or the “misinformation crisis” — it all refers more or less to the same thing.

The American mind, or a sizable chunk of it at least, has been deranged by a poisoned information system. The way millions of citizens learn about the world, the way they form core beliefs, is irredeemably broken. And because the media environment has been blown apart by digital technology, “there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics,” as Politico’s Tim Alberta put it recently.

If the depth of that crisis wasn’t apparent before Wednesday, it sure as hell is now.”

“The road to this dark place was paved by lots of hands over many years. But the evolution of right-wing media into a fantasy-industrial complex is at the center of the story.

Propaganda has always been a bipartisan game, but media-driven polarization has become more asymmetric in recent years. The left mostly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. However biased some of this reporting can be (and there’s plenty of bias), most of it is anchored by basic journalistic ethics.

This just isn’t true on the right. A 2018 book called Network Propaganda by three Harvard researchers is probably the best survey on this disparity, and it shows that American conservative media functions very much like a closed system, with Fox News at the center (at least until recently). The people who inhabit this system rarely collide with information beyond it, and the competition within it — on the supply side — is continually intensifying in order to meet the demand from audiences consuming the high-stakes narratives. As Brian Stelter, longtime media reporter and author of Hoax, told me in November, anchors at Fox are now struggling “to keep up with their viewers’ demand for propaganda.””

“Consumers of this stuff have been fed a daily diet of conspiracies and panicked claims about the death of the republic and the plot to steal the election.”

“If you watch Newsmax and OAN every night, if you listen to talk radio hosts like Mark Levin claim that “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are being destroyed by the Democratic Party and the media,” if you hear Sean Hannity (whose show pulls in 4 million viewers a night) insist, “We have a duty to investigate every legitimate claim of fraud and abuse,” if you’re inhaling QAnon fantasies online, you’re likely extremely deluded about the state of the world. Is it any surprise that we’re living in a golden age of conspiracy theories?

The president himself is the most consequential consumer of this stuff. Listen to his leaked hour-long call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and you’ll hear a hodgepodge of familiar conspiracy theories about hacked voting machines and forgeries and collusion among various election officials. It’s all laid out and distilled, just as you’d hear it on Newsmax or read on 4chan or Parler, the right-wing alternative to Twitter.

All these fictions have coursed through the conservative media ecosystem, and the insurrectionists who flooded the Capitol have imbibed it for months. It’s why they chanted, “Stop the steal,” and it’s why you can hear them saying, “They don’t get to steal it from us, they don’t get to tell us we didn’t see what we saw.” And it’s why something like 70 percent of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair.

So we reached this precipice because millions of Americans have had a firehose of falsehoods blasted into their brains for months on end. They believe the election was rigged and stolen. And they believe that because they’ve been told exactly that, not just by the president but by a vast network of grifters and online provocateurs and political entrepreneurs who have cultivated and reinforced conspiracy theories about the election and god knows what else.

And all of this is facilitated by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, both of which, as Warzel told me last year, pretend they’re not “arbiters of truth” and insist they “don’t want to weigh in at all” — but they’re already in that position and have been for a long time. These tech companies may not be putting their thumbs on the scale in the conventional sense, but as Andrew Marantz, author of Antisocial, pointed out to me in a recent interview, they’re “outsourcing those decisions to algorithms” that continually push users into blackholes of mutually reinforcing content. Whatever their intentions, these companies helped lead us to this moment.”

“If you believed — I mean really believed — that the president you supported won a landslide victory that was systematically undermined by seditious Republicans and Democrats, and that that conspiracy was being covered up by a crooked and compromised media, and at the same time you saw over 100 Republican House members and multiple senators questioning the validity of the election, and the president was telling you to do something about it, it’s not hard to see how quickly you might move from shitposting online to storming the Capitol.”

“Everyone who participates in this system of misinformation shares responsibility for what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday. We are reaping what they sowed. Still, Tucker Carlson goes on Fox News primetime hours after a violent assault on the Capitol and, naturally, casts blame elsewhere: “We got to this sad, chaotic day for a reason. It is not your fault; it is their fault.””

“It was obvious when a man walked into a DC pizza shop in 2017 with a gun because he believed a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring. It was obvious when armed protesters occupied the Michigan Legislature to protest Covid-19 lockdowns after an incendiary Trump tweet. It was obvious when we learned the Nashville bombing suspect reportedly believed in various conspiracy theories about aliens and lizard people. As this Wall Street Journal report shows, it was obvious in recent weeks as various watchdog groups warned of growing threats online. And it’s painfully obvious now after we saw the Capitol ravaged by rioters who believed, without any evidence, that an election had been stolen from them.”

“Every member of the Republican Party — from senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to the toadies working in the Trump White House — bear special responsibility for this crisis. They’ve known exactly who and what Trump is from the start, and they rode the tiger straight into the abyss.

And so many of them performed this ridiculous two-step, parroting Trump’s nonsense in one breath and winking quietly while doing it. Even on Thursday, before the dust has settled at the Capitol, Republican House members like Paul Gosar (AZ) and Matt Gaetz (FL) are spreading baseless conspiracy theories suggesting the assault was some kind of “false flag” perpetuated by antifa. And despite everything that happened in the past 48 hours, nearly 150 Republican lawmakers formally objected to the election results anyway.

If the fantasy-industrial complex churning out lies and conspiracy theories wasn’t bad enough, we’re also dealing with a much more pervasive problem in the press. As I tried to explain last year, we’re facing a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age, something known as “flooding the zone with shit.” It’s less about perpetuating alternative realities and more about overwhelming the public with so many competing narratives, so much misinformation, that even well-intentioned people don’t know what to believe.”

“Without some kind of reckoning in right-wing media, there is no sustainable path forward for the country. And even if the complicit pull back from the brink, it’s probably too late anyway. So much of the damage is already done. The conspiracy theories that radicalized that mob are already out there, already implanted in millions of minds. Like some kind of political pathogen, they will keep working their will on the body politic.

That is our hell for the foreseeable future.”

How fake news aimed at Latinos thrives on social media

“Democrats are increasingly worried about the influence of misinformation on social media aimed at Latino voters in the runup to the election. The misleading narratives continue to spread on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as in closed chat groups like WhatsApp and Telegram, in addition to the more traditional platforms like television, radio, and talking points coming directly from elected officials.

Several misinformation researchers told Recode that they’re seeing alarming amounts of misinformation about voter fraud and Democratic leaders being shared in Latino social media communities. Biden is a popular target, with misinformation ranging from exaggerated claims that he embraces Fidel Castro-style socialism to more patently false and outlandish ones, for instance that the president-elect supports abortion minutes before a child’s birth or that he orchestrated a caravan of Cuban immigrants to infiltrate the US Southern border and disrupt the election process.

“What I’ve seen during this election looks to be a multifaceted misinformation effort seeking to undermine Biden and Harris’s support amongst the Latino community,” said Sam Woolley, a misinformation and propaganda researcher at the University of Texas Austin. “I think that political groups understand that the Latino vote matters and they are showing they are willing to use any and all informational tactics to get what they want.””

“Some of the misleading messages — like that Biden is a radical socialist — aren’t uniquely aimed at the Latino community; Trump often made this claim during his campaign. But these comparisons take on a new intensity with some immigrants from countries like Cuba or Venezuela who have lived under socialist governments and may be deeply opposed to them.”

Parler, the “free speech” Twitter wannabe, explained

“But despite the recent attention, some say the rise of Parler fits into the larger history of American conservatives and their relationship with the media.

“This follows a pattern of what the right wing has done [since] the rise of talk radio in the ’80s, and then through live cable TV, and then the rise of social media,” Lawrence Rosenthal, the chair of the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies, told Recode. “In each case, what you found is that the right wing gives up on participating in mainstream media and creates an alternative universe.””

“Based in Nevada, the company behind Parler is run primarily by two people: Matze and Jared Thomson, who serves as CTO. Neither of them had a particular public profile before creating the app. Jeffrey Wernick, a bitcoin enthusiast and early Airbnb investor, serves as the company’s chief operating officer. But there are other people funding the app.

Earlier this month, Parler confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer was the company’s lead investor and agreed to fund Parler only if it gave users control over what they saw on the platform.”