“This will come back and bite them because Congress will return with a vengeance in a bipartisan fashion,” Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO.
The result is that Democrats, whose anger at the tech industry has risen dramatically since the 2016 elections, are talking about bringing new levels of control and consequence to businesses, including stepping up efforts to provide liability protection for websites where violent Websites take place, narrow down, or revise or send dangerous messages.
Democrats were also optimistic about Republican collaboration, although the Trump-era GOP often focused on allegations that social media platforms were practicing too much censorship. And some liberal activists have said containing online extremism must be a day one priority for President-elect Joe Biden.
A number of prominent Democrats reprimanded social media companies – from tech giants like Facebook and YouTube to smaller, free-running platforms like Gab and Parler – for failing to crack down on those who organized and organized the pro-Trump rally on Wednesday had carried out. What began as a protest and included a personal address from the President escalated into a full blown storm on the Capitol, in which four people died.
“Congress was attacked yesterday by a mob radicalized in an echo chamber created by Facebook and other major platforms,” said New Jersey Democratic MP Tom Malinowski, who has criticized the way technology companies are using content that is potentially harmful to theirs Expand users.
The most violent news before and after Wednesday’s Capitol swarm appeared on lesser-known platforms that make little or no effort to moderate their content – including Telegram, Parler, and TheDonald.win, a pro-Trump site on the people openly killing the prospect of cheered liberals and great tech managers.
But liberal lawmakers aimed in particular at the leading companies in the industry, like Facebook and Twitter for failing to kick Trump off their platforms despite years of warnings from Democratic leaders, civil rights groups, and other advocates that the president’s online rhetoric did real harm.
Those efforts met with opposition from a leading Republican woman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Thursday of Washington State, who said the president’s “censorship” would “have grave implications for freedom of speech that will extend well beyond President Trump’s term”.
Facebook and Twitter have taken unprecedented steps to limit the reach of Trump’s messages following the riot at the Capitol, and temporarily suspend his accounts, preventing him from posting.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, announced on Thursday that the platform would block Trump indefinitely, at least until Biden is sworn in. He believes that “the risks that the President will continue to use our ministry during this time are simply too great”.
A Twitter spokesperson said the company’s public interest policy, which exempt officials like Trump from removing and suspending tweets, “ends where we believe the risk of harm is greater and / or more severe”.
YouTube, meanwhile, has shut down a video in which Trump continued to announce false allegations of “stolen” elections, and it has announced that users who violate guidelines against the publication of unsubstantiated election fraud claims will be suspended and possibly permanently banned.
In the run-up to the 2020 elections, major platforms improved their anti-misinformation policies by labeling posts with election-related content or misinformation and directing users to authoritative news sources instead.
But the restrictions and shutdowns did little to reassure critics of Trump and the tech companies, who said the steps didn’t go far enough and were way too late.
This week offered a double boost to the prospect of action: the democratic occupation of the Senate seats in Georgia on Tuesday gives the party unified control over Congress for the first time since 2010. And Wednesday’s violence gives Democrats even more impetus to use that power to crack down on online extremism.
“It has created a greater urgency and willingness, hopefully on both sides of the aisle, to delve into and do the hard work that it takes to address this,” said Democratic MP Jennifer Wexton from Virginia. “I think it will be a top priority for us at the 117th to work out a plan to address this type of disinformation.”
“The only thing I hope it will be done for a lot of people is to show what happens online is not separate from what happens offline,” said Karen Kornbluh, director of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at German Marshall Find. “We saw people who got organized online come to Washington with their QAnon beliefs and other ideas they got on social media and put them into practice in the real world.”
An area that several Democrats said was now even more ripe for Congressional action: revising tech industry legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the much-debated act of 1996 that protects platforms from liability for material theirs Publish users.
“Yesterday’s events will renew the need and focus for Congress to reform the privileges and duties of big tech,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “This begins with reform of Section 230, preventing fundamental rights violations, ending the destructive use of Americans’ private data, and other outright harm.”
Malinowski, who has passed legislation with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) To lift this protections in cases where platforms amplify or amplify certain malicious content, said the Capitol uprising “accelerates the need” for such changes to section 230
Warner said he is working on his own new proposal to revise Section 230, a goal he has identified as a top priority for this Congress, and that he expects “a number of colleagues” to support the bill. This could make his move one of the biggest threats to legal protection on Capitol Hill – and more plausible than Trump’s unsuccessful demand that Congress repeal the law entirely to punish alleged anti-conservative bias.
Warner, who stands ready to head the Senate Intel once the Democrats take control of the chamber, also suggested that the issue could be a big focus of the panel’s activities at that congress. “We’ll have a lot more to say about that,” he said when asked about his possible hearing plans.
While outrage over how social media companies handled the uprising and the events that led to it has been dominated by Democrats, some Republicans believe the events also broadened existing bipartisan efforts to contain it, according to a GOP adviser to Rep drive harmful content on social media. Michael McCaul from Texas.
The Texas Republican, who chaired the Homeland Security Committee for years, plans to reintroduce a bill to set up a clearinghouse in the Department of Homeland Security where social media companies could voluntarily report online threats of impending violence, the employee said. This hub would then forward these to the relevant law enforcement agencies.
A fatal shootout that killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas in 2019 had fueled years of negotiations behind the bill, involving both social media companies and civil rights groups. But the McCaul aide said if the measure had taken effect, it might have helped authorities expose and repel violence at the Capitol this week.
Biden, who scorched Facebook and other social media companies on allegations that they deliberately enabled disinformation in the 2020 elections, will also face pressure from stakeholders to look into how companies handle violent and misleading content.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said that in view of the riots on Wednesday, Biden should take immediate action on that front if he is sworn in on Jan. 20.
“I think it is crucial that the new government start a process on day one that examines the rise of extremism and the role of social media companies in contributing to it,” Greenblatt said, expressing the idea that the Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could lead the task force.
Kornbluh, who served under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, suggested that Silicon Valley tech companies might indeed welcome the opportunity to do their own reset if the power dynamic in Washington changes. “To turn the page,” she said, “and pass some of those pro-transparency policies that would address disinformation and dangerous conspiracy theories and harassment.”
But Wexton, the Virginia Democrat, said companies may not have much choice on this matter.
“They can be on the train or they can be under it,” she said.