The great de-platforming
And some loose thoughts on what it might mean
The 2010s began with the world watching the Arab Spring unfold across social platforms, which researchers found “to play a central role in shaping political debates.” Facebook and Twitter were heralded as important communications tools of toppling dictatorships. The power of the social graph, connecting people and ideas (and brands; can’t forget the brands). We were optimistic that technology could be a force for good.
That optimism died, slowly, over the ensuing ten years, as the ‘change-the-world’ vibes that the platforms heralded (connecting the world, etc) were no match for the cynical men who created the algorithms that brainwashed and addicted countless people. These are the same algorithms that serve people lies, disinformation and propaganda.
Today’s column from Ben Smith highlights the addictive nature of social platforms; through the story of a former BuzzFeed colleague-turned-Capitol-stormer:
And so the language I heard from Mr. Gionet, now 33, on his livestream last Wednesday was familiar. “We’ve got over 10,000 people live, watching, let’s go!” he said excitedly. “Hit that follow button — I appreciate you guys.”
Smith labels this ‘performative violence,’ and BuzzFeed News, the day after the siege, noted how the pro-Trump mob ‘was doing it for the ‘Gram.’
You can see this most clearly in this photo, where the man in the god-knows-what costume, Jake Angeli, the so-called QAnon Shaman, is posing on the dais of the Senate, his friends carefully framing him to get the perfect shot. It is the Trump supporter equivalent of an Instagram influencer getting a photo beside a perfect mural.
For years, the platforms punted their responsibility arguing they are not the arbiters of truth. They will not decide who gets to say what on their sites. This year, as the president grew more erratic, spreading dangerous lies and delusional messages, the platforms started imposing tighter rules. On Wednesday, the world watched domestic terrorists storm the Capitol after years of being bombarded by, and often sharing, conspiracy messages on Facebook and Twitter.
Ultimately making the decision that an attempted coup was the line in the sand, the platforms deplatformed the president on Friday. Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Snap, Insta, Shopify, Reddit. All of them. The platforms’ spines got a little sturdier this week as, with Jon Ossof and Rev. Rafael Warnock winning their Senate races and flipping the upper chamber under the control of Democrats, perhaps they realized legislation and oversight are coming. Which makes a potential Trump social network difficult to implement.
Politico reports that Democrats not only are angry with Silicon Valley, but ready to take action.
“This is going to come back and bite ‘em because Congress, in a bipartisan way, is going to come back with a vengeance,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Politico.
There was also a purge of far right users on Twitter, and boy did the people who are proud they’re followed by Nazis really tell on themselves.
And to be clear: people complaining about losing Twitter followers instead of the insurrection they participated in and instigated through years of proffering up bad-faith arguments, lying and stoking hatred and conspiracy, is precisely the problem.
The argument that the people getting kicked off the platforms have had their First Amendment violated is as much an indictment of our education system as it is anything else. It’s also interesting how many who believe Twitter and Facebook are prohibiting their free speech also support a Colorado cake baker who refused to bake cakes for gay couples, citing the very same amendment; that the baker should have the right on who or who not to serve.
The Gordian knot this lazy thinking creates is near impossible to untangle, at least in the way we currently approach journalism. Performative Conservatism in full plumage and we’re blinded.
I think this is the thing that reporters have a hard time wrestling with: bad-faith actors have manipulated the media for decades, and it’s really hard to unwind this tape.
I mean, look at the bad-faith charlatan Devin Nunes, complaining how “Republicans have no way to communicate” while communicating this thought on television, our most pervasive mass medium.
The president has a bully pulpit; any elected official can hold a press conference to get their message out. (The fact we haven’t heard from the president or law enforcement, nor has Congress, according to Rep. Ilhan Omar, is pretty disturbing. The last terrorist attack in the U.S had ongoing law enforcement updates.)
While the political press can identify a stinker like Nunes from far away, it appears to be a challenge when looking at the perceived Very Important Politician.
Take the Sunday morning talk shows, for example. Yesterday, ABC News’s This Week with George Stephanopolous had Chris Christie; NBC News’s Meet the Press had Trump’s former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (who resigned last week; attempted coup was a bridge too far), and CBS’s Face the Nation had Sen. Roy Blunt (who for weeks spread the conspiracy that the election was stolen, and who said on CBS that “the president touched the hot stone on Wednesday and is unlikely to touch it again.”).
Decades of working the refs pay off.
It’s also interesting how the tech companies fall in line once one of them makes a move. We’d seen it in the past, but this weekend, as the dominoes came crashing down one by one, we saw them take even more aggressive stands. And not just Facebook and Twitter permanently suspending the President and accounts that push conspiracy.
On Saturday, Apple and Google dropped Parler after the companies said the far right’s social media platform didn’t appropriately police content from its users. And then late Saturday evening, BuzzFeed reported that Amazon’s AWS was going to take Parler off the internet, delivering a crippling blow to the rat’s nest of the far right.
As the tech platforms finally exert their power and try to stamp out the flow of disinformation and conspiracy, I am curious as to other aspects of the digital media ecosystem. Will DSPs, SSPs, and other ad exchanges also start to block Trump and Trump-like ads and content? What about the content recommendation services like Taboola and Outbrain?
On Wednesday Valor Digital CEO David Nyurenberg wrote a LinkedIn post, :
But in addition to social platforms. Many of the people who stormed the Capitol today get their news from online publishers that traffic in falsehoods. Publishers like The Federalist, who have managed to stay in business by monetizing their inflammatory content through ad tech companies.
At this stage of the game. Few Ad Tech Companies will work with these sites. But one company continues to not only happily provide monetization services to sites like The Federalist. But also do nothing to ensure that fake news and dangerous disinformation content is not amplified through their services.
He then showed these screengrabs of Taboola content running on The Federalist.
I emailed Taboola’s CEO Adam Singolda about the company’s role in spreading disinformation and he responded that the company was looking into this.
“Taboola invests heavily in manually reviewing publishers we work with and their content, using a full time content review team,” he said in an email. “We have a strict policy against disseminating fake news. We continuously screen our publishers and, at times, fire any parties deemed to be distributing it.”
Singolda also said that the company has “a strong policy against working with any ‘bad actors,’ such as those that publish fake news.”
‘Dems in disarray’ trope wears thin
One other thing that I’ve been thinking about. We’ve discussed many times in this newsletter about framing and sourcing, and it’s still arresting to see the media not learn.
For as long as I can remember, we’ve had “Democrats in disarray” article frames, which, I think, plays a large part in Democrats’ governing philosophy of ‘leading defensively’ or, playing not to lose.
Politico: “Dems grapple with impeachment realities in race to punish Trump”
New York Times: “Democrats are determined to pressure Biden to investigate Trump”
We need to ask: where are the stories of Republicans grappling with a party that wraps itself in racism; that stormed the Capitol; that attempted a coup?
Instead, we get stories that try to exculpate willing seditious participants.
And finally: as we’re learning more each day, we should count our blessings that Trump, his administration, and his followers are incompetent. While the damage done has been devastating, it could have been so much worse.
Thank you for allowing me in your inbox, today and every day. If you have tips, or thoughts on the newsletter, send me an email. Or you can follow me on Twitter. If you arrived here through social or a colleague, please consider signing up. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
Jimmy Dale Gilmore, “My Mind’s Gotta a Mind of Its Own”
Some interesting links:
For the rewards and points collector:
The man who turned credit card points into an empire (NYT)
For companies deciding which side of history they want to be on:
Three major corporations say they will stop donating to members of Congress who tried to overturn the election (Popular Info)
Capitol Riot Prompts Some Big Banks and Companies to Pause Political Funding (WSJ)
For media criticism:
How the press — like the police — missed the looming Capitol coup (Press Run)
For more hot air:
Fox News Channel Shakes Up Daytime Schedule (Variety)
As Trump Reels, Fox News Has a Message for Viewers: Stick With Us (NYT)
For jamming the revolving door:
A Truth Reckoning: Why We’re Holding Those Who Lied For Trump Accountable (Forbes)
For the crystal ball:
Pandemic Accelerated Consumer Media Tech In 2020, Makes For Tough Comps In Next Few Years (MediaPost)
For people truly missing CES: