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The Technology 202: Facebook's critics say Trump ban came too late

with Tonya Riley

Social media companies’ stand against President Trump is too little, too late, critics say. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's announced that the company would “indefinitely” suspend Trump after the president leveraged his online megaphone to help stoke a riot at the Capitol marked a dramatic reversal for the company that has long argued it would take a hands-off approach to speech from politicians on its service. 

And Twitter threatened to permanently suspend Trump, who regained access to his Twitter account after a 12-hour suspension, following the removal of three tweets that violated the company's rules, with one more strike. 

Yet lawmakers and advocates note they have warned for years that Trump’s efforts to incite violence and spread disinformation put lives at risk. “Facebook has finally taken the long-overdue step of blocking the president’s account — at least for the next 13 days — but I’m deeply frustrated that it took a group of domestic terrorists storming the Capitol before they were willing to do so,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told my colleague Tony Romm in a statement. 

“While I’m pleased to see social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube take long-belated steps to address the President’s sustained misuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence, these isolated actions are both too late and not nearly enough,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement. “Disinformation and extremism researchers have for years pointed to broader network-based exploitation of these platforms.”

The disinformation that Trump inspired continue to thrive online whether he can post or not. 

The baseless claims of election fraud and hateful speech has already swelled far beyond the control of any content moderation team. And that will have consequences for years to come after Trump's presidency. 

Facebook has introduced tougher policies in the wake of the Capitol violence, but the company has a checkered history in actually enforcing its rules and ferreting out incendiary content from its service – especially when it's being shared in Facebook Groups or private chats. 

The violent rhetoric is increasingly shifting to darker corners of the Internet. 

Researchers studying extremism online warned that not enough attention was being given to the far-right social media companies. Many of Trump's top allies who have repeatedly violated the rules on social media continue to have large followings on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. As Twitter suspended the accounts of some of Trump's most ardent supporters, they flocked to the alternative social media service Parler. 

“Today's twin decisions by Twitter and Facebook to boot Trump off of their platforms are small consolation for what we continue to eye on social media sites loyal to Trump and his most ardent and cult-like extremist followers: unyielding and accelerated incitement to more political violence and threats to the lives of Congressmen and leading politicians following yesterday's Capitol attack,” warned Marc Ginsberg, the president of Coalition for a Safer Web. 

The pro-Trump attorney L. Lin Wood, for instance, whose Twitter account was suspended Wednesday after he baselessly accused Pence of being a “child molester,” moved to Parler, my colleagues reported. There he urged Trump-supporting “patriots” to keep fighting, and even called for “firing squads” to get Vice President Pence first. 

Many Democrats say it's time for a permanent ban of Trump. 

“Now is the time for Silicon Valley companies to stop enabling this monstrous behavior and go even further by permanently banning this man from their platforms and putting in place policies to prevent their technology from being used by the nation’s leaders to fuel insurrection,” Michelle Obama said. 

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Simon & Schuster dropped Sen. Josh Hawley's book about tech after the Capitol riots. 

The publishing company said in a statement it canceled the deal with the Missouri Republican "after witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.,” CNN's Brian Stetler reported. 

Hawley was expected to publish a book called “The Tyranny of Big Tech” that said that large tech businesses “represent the gravest threat to American liberty since the monopolies of the Gilded Age,” and that Hawley would propose “a democratic, hopeful path forward,” according to a description of the book that remains on Simon & Schuster’s website. 

The publisher explained how it came to the decision in a statement. “As a publisher it has always been our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints; at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom,” the statement said. 

Hawley responded on Twitter with a threat to sue the company, blasting the publisher as a “woke mob.” 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will not move forward with a rule-making on Section 230. 

The outgoing Republican official is distancing himself from president Trump in the wake of the violence at the Capitol, Protocol's Emily Birnbaum reports. 

In an interview on C-SPAN's "The Communicators," Pai told Protocol and C-SPAN co-host Peter Slen that he does not plan to move forward with a rule-making on Section 230, which was laid out in Trump's social media executive order last year. He also said he wouldn't "second-guess" Facebook and Twitter's temporary suspensions of Trump. 

“The reason is, in part, because given the results of the election, there's simply not sufficient time to complete the administrative steps necessary in order to resolve the rule-making,” Pai said. “Given that reality, I do not believe it's appropriate to move forward.” He said Congress needs to think very carefully about how it should be reformed. 

Pai also said the president bears some responsibility for the riots. "I think it was a terrible mistake to suggest that the results of the election, and particularly the process that culminated yesterday in the Senate and the House, could in any way be changed," Pai, said. "That was a terrible mistake and one that I do not think in any way should have been indulged."

Pai previously announced he intended to leave the FCC on Jan. 20.

Rant and rave

Trump is back on Twitter, with a new video where he promised a smooth transition of power. 

From Ezra Klein, a New York Times columnist: 

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Palantir CEO Alex Karp weighs in on social media companies' suspensions of Trump at Washington Post Live:

Twitter suspended President Trump's account Wednesday after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol. Alexander Karp, CEO and co-founder of Palantir, said the president "crossed a really important line." "The problem is Silicon Valley has become so divisive I worry that any action that they take might actually end up bolstering this kind of transgressionary behavior...What we saw yesterday, it's a breaking point." (Video: Washington Post Live)