Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker has called for social media giants to do more than deplatforming to tackle the spread of far-right content online.
In a blogpost, Baker said that there was “no question” that social media played a role in the invasion of the US Capitol Building by pro-Trump supporters on 6 January.
“Since then there has been significant focus on the deplatforming of President Donald Trump. By all means, the question of when to deplatform a head of state is a critical one, among many that must be addressed. When should platforms make these decisions? Is that decision-making power theirs alone?” she continued.
Following the riots in Washington DC, Twitter announced that Donald Trump’s accounts had been permanently suspended due to the risk of further incitement of violence, with Facebook suspending his account indefinitely until at least the end of his presidency. Trump has also been indefinitely banned from other social media sites including Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitch.
Earlier this week Parler, a social media platform popular with Trump supporters, was also taken offline after Amazon Web Services withdrew support due to “a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms”.
While some have welcomed the move as a necessary crackdown on harmful content and disinformation, others have asked whether banning Donald Trump from social media sites is too little too late, with fears that supporters will move to fringe social media sites such as Gab, known for its far-right user base.
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“The answer is not to do away with the internet, but to build a better one”
Baker explained that she believes addressing the role of social media in the spread of far-right content should go beyond deplatforming:
“As reprehensible as the actions of Donald Trump are, the rampant use of the internet to foment violence and hate, and reinforce white supremacy is about more than any one personality. Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to exploit the architecture of the internet in this way, and he won’t be the last. We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done.
“Changing these dangerous dynamics requires more than just the temporary silencing or permanent removal of bad actors from social media platforms.”
The Mozilla CEO made a series of recommendations for “precise and specific” actions to address the issue further. She called for social media companies to reveal who is paying for advertisements that appear on their platforms. She also urged them to commit to greater transparency when it comes to algorithms in order to better understand what content is being amplified and to whom.
Furthermore, she called for tools that amplify factual content over disinformation, and in-depth research into social media platforms’ impact on people and our societies.
“These are actions the platforms can and should commit to today,” said Baker. “The answer is not to do away with the internet, but to build a better one that can withstand and gird against these types of challenges. This is how we can begin to do that.”