Socialist Worker

The social media bosses are not on our side

With Donald Trump banned from social media Sarah Bates asks what are the implications of such measures for the left

Issue No. 2738

Billionaire social media bosses are not on our side

Billionaire social media bosses are not on our side (Pic: JD Lasica/flickr)


When outgoing US president Donald Trump had his social media accounts closed down two weeks ago there was celebration.

First Facebook banned him from its platform following the chaotic scenes when his supporters occupied the US Capitol building on  6 January.

The next day, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said Trump had been locked out of the platform “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete”.

He said Trump had used Facebook and Instagram “to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government”.

Within days, Trump’s posting privileges on sites owned by media giants such as YouTube, Amazon and Apple fell like dominoes.

Wild

While it’s understandable to feel cheered that Trump is being denied a platform, it does throw up questions about the precedent it sets.

Online platforms are now huge players in the publication of news and how people exchange information.

But the current situation is a far cry from the hopes of activists that the internet would wrestle information dissemination from the control of bosses.

So now users can be banned for breaching Facebook’s vague “community guidelines” or, as in the case of Trump, inciting violence.

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A tiny group of people sit in Silicon Valley boardrooms and decide whether this violence is legitimate or illegitimate. These same people head up huge private corporations that can set out appeal processes that amplify or cut off voices.

The whole history of workers’ struggles and battles for liberation have included violent clashes and calls for resistance.

And for activists organising resistance today, the implications of social media bans have to be carefully considered.

For instance, if a mass picket is attacked by cops or anti-fascist protesters are attacked by Nazis, it’s possible strikers and anti-racists could be banned from social media.

It’s entirely possible to believe that social media sites could block Black Lives Matter activists after the angry protests of last summer. And social media is also a powerful tool in the hands of the state.

In the US, the FBI has released pictures of people storming the Capitol and has been scrounging for tips on how to arrest them.

People have scrambled to identify the leaders of the protests so the FBI can prosecute them.

And it looks like it is working—the bureau said it had received “more than 100,000 pieces of digital media” since 6 January.

The FBI may have used its power against right wing protesters this time.

But these sort of police tactics are generally used against the left.

The British state has used Facebook posts as a way to target Muslims and throw them in jail.

Two men who in 2011 posted messages on Facebook calling for riots were sentenced to four years in prison.

And now drill rap videos are being used to prosecute young black men for inciting gang rivalries.

Evidence

The videos are being used as evidence to link defendants together under the “joint enterprise” laws. These laws mean people can be collectively responsible for crimes even if they weren’t directly involved.

Some on the left are overjoyed that Trump has been pushed to the fringe of online platforms—although he still has a hearing in traditional broadcast media.

But it’s wrong to use it as an example of how media CEOs will be on our side.

Trump’s calls for violence aren’t the only threat facing us—alongside them lies how our media is controlled, by who and for what purpose.


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