The online world still can’t leave the ‘big lie’

Lawmakers, meanwhile, are heading into the mid-terms with starkly contrasting political narratives of last year’s violence: Democrats want online businesses to do more to eliminate election-related misinformation, while Republicans allege that these platforms are taking advantage of the riot to censor right-wing voices.

“One of the most alarming developments of 2021 since the insurgency has been an effort, especially among influencers and politicians, to normalize conspiracy theories around election denial,” said Mary McCord, former head of National Security and Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional at Georgetown University. Advocacy and protection.

“They have integrated ideologically motivated violence,” she added. “An alarming number of Americans now believe that violence may be necessary to ‘save the country’.”

A political hot potato

One of the main reasons that policymakers and social media companies still struggle to contain the January 6 lies is that the assault on Capitol Hill itself has become contested territory.

In the days following the riots, Republicans and Democrats condemned the deadly violence, with longtime Trump allies such as Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) calling for an end to hostilities. Trump himself was repelled by many of his supporters and even by some of his own candidates immediately after January 6.

This initial bipartisanship gave social media giants political cover to wipe out tons of election misinformation and pass data on to law enforcement investigating the attack. Trump’s bans – though Google’s YouTube platform and Facebook reserved the right to reinstate him ahead of the 2024 presidential election – also marked a turning point.

“Trump was twisted when companies crossed a line into a new type of app,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy executive who previously worked for the Republicans’ Senate National Campaign. “After that, they felt more comfortable removing content posted by politicians.”

This comfort did not last long.

Instead, GOP voters and politicians have increasingly embraced the lies about the 2020 election that helped fuel the attack, while Congress – and many in the country – is divided according to left on what really happened on January 6th. This has left social media companies vulnerable to partisan attacks for any action they take or don’t take in connection with last year’s riots.

For Democrats, businesses just haven’t done enough.

“It’s clear that some social media companies have chosen profits over personal safety,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (DN.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which brought in Facebook CEOs , Twitter and Google to testify. on their role before the January 6 uprising. “These companies have no intention of making their platforms more secure and have instead taken steps to amplify content that endangers our communities and incites violence.”

Republicans, however, have increasingly turned rioters into freedom fighters, raising valid questions about the election outcome. Lawmakers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) Described the Democrats’ investigation into the insurgency as a “political witch hunt against Republicans and Trump supporters.” (Greene, who made the accusation in a Facebook video that has received 309,000 views since early December, saw his personal Twitter account permanently suspended this week for posting false information about Covid.)

They are also mobilizing around people who have been excluded from social networks.

Minority Parliamentary Leader Kevin McCarthy has threatened retaliation against the liability protections online businesses enjoy under a law known as Section 230, which protects businesses from lawsuits for the most of the content posted by users and allows them to moderate or remove content that they find objectionable.

McCarthy warned in a series of tweets Tuesday, after Greene’s suspension, that a future Republican majority would work to ensure that if Twitter and other social media companies remove “constitutionally protected (not obscene and obscene) speech,” they “will lose 230 protections “.

“Acting as a publisher and a censorship regime should mean stopping the business model you rely on today, and I will work to make that happen,” he added.

For Democrats, the failure of platforms to stop all January 6 hate speech from circulating online underscores the need for new laws. They were hoping to gain traction thanks to disclosures last fall by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who released internal documents showing the tech giant struggled to contain insurgent messages before January 6.

Democrat-led bill introduced after Haugen’s Senate appearance seeks to remove Section 230 protections from online platforms if they ‘knowingly or recklessly’ use algorithms to recommend content that can cause serious emotional harm or physical offline. The bill lacks Republican support and has been criticized for potentially infringing on free speech.

In several briefings, lawmakers and staff on both sides confronted large social media companies with accusations they played a role in the attacks, according to two tech officials who spoke on condition of anonymity for discuss closed meetings. Discussions have often become personal, with policymakers accusing corporations of playing fast and loose with American democracy.

With little bipartisan agreement, one of the tech executives added, social networks are increasingly cautious in how they handle January 6-related content that does not categorically violate their terms of service.

“Congress has struggled to find a proper course to follow,” Coons conceded when asked about the role of lawmakers in handling Jan.6 and election disinformation. “We have different views on which harm needs to be stopped the most depending on our policy and because – as a society – we are committed to free speech. “

The rabbit hole of disinformation

Since the Capitol Hill riots, major social networks have deleted countless accounts associated with white supremacists and domestic extremists. They changed the algorithms to prevent the January 6 conspiracy videos from appearing in people’s feeds. The companies supported investments in fact-checking partnerships and online election-related clearinghouses.

Yet scratch the surface, and it’s still relatively easy to find widely shared messages denying the election results, politicians promoting the January 6 lies to millions of followers and, in the more obscure parts of Europe. Internet, coordinated campaigns to fuel suspicion of Biden’s victory in 2020 and to coordinate potential violent responses.

POLITICO uncovered tons of posts related to the 2020 election and January 6 disinformation, on six separate social media networks, over a four-week period ending January 4, 2022. The results were based on data collected via CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool that examines posts on the platform and on Twitter, as well as separate analytics through YouTube and three fringe social networks, Gettr, Telegram, and Gab.

The content included partisan attacks by elected officials and online influencers peddling falsehoods about January 6 to large online audiences. Within niche online communities on alternative social media, domestic extremists have shared violent images and openly discussed the attacks on election officials.

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