The social media impact of assault on the Capitol


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As with demonstrations over the summer, social media played a vital role in the storm on the Capitol Wednesday.

President Donald Trump was banned from posting on Facebook and Instagram until at least the end of his presidency. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg claimed the risk of allowing him to remain active on the platforms was too great.

The social media platform co-founder said they’d removed or flagged his content but allowed him to remain on the site. However, Zuckerberg said the posts leading up to and during the assault on the Capitol were “fundamentally different, involving the use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government”.

Even after a 12-hour block of the President’s Twitter account expired, the President seemed to remain inactive on that platform as well.

Professor Phil Napoli, a public policy and social media regulations expert at Duke University, said the issues the president has been flagged for going deeper than social media.

The line between free speech and social media platform policies can be blurry but Napoli says elected officials need to be held accountable for spreading falsehoods online.

“It’s far more than just a social media problem. It’s a problem with our actual elected officials being direct disseminators of disinformation,” Napoli said.

Even so, he doesn’t think this indefinite blocking of the president on Facebook will prompt an overhaul of what’s allowed on social media.

“This is a moment that finally catalyzes a much more robust conversation about both regulatory and self-regulatory efforts to police disinformation on all our various social media platforms,” the professor said.

Regulating becomes more complicated as new platforms emerge every year. Napoli said that even if the president is banned permanently on Facebook and Twitter, there will always be a new platform – whether online or on television- to turn to.

“This is a space that’s starting to fragment. There are a lot of platforms out there. The audience will follow him, not all of them but plenty will,” Napoli said.

What’s more effective in the long-run, is educating people about spotting posts online that include misleading or incendiary information or misinformation all together.

“We are not all entitled to the right to disseminate whatever’s on our mind on social media. The sooner we get to that understood norm, the better. But we also have to train our students to be better news consumers than the average adult is today,” Napoli said.

Real-world consequences

Images emerging from inside the Capitol show several people holding up cameras, posting photos of themselves and others to social media pages. Those photos are now being used by the D.C. Metro police and the FBI to identify protestors.

In the case of one person, it’s already cost them their job. The company Navistar Direct Marketing responded to a wave of people online identifying a man inside the Capitol building as an employee of theirs. Photos show the man wearing a badge around his neck with the company name. In a statement, the company said, “While we support all employee’s right to peaceful, lawful exercise of free speech, any employee demonstrating dangerous conduct that endangers the health and safety of others will no longer have an employment opportunity with Navistar Direct Marketing.”

Professor Napoli said, “A lot of those folks felt, A: like they weren’t committing a crime. They truly believe that they were taking action against an unjust election. B: nothing has been clearer over the past four years than a sense that fairly egregious actions haven’t had consequences. And that was really borne out yesterday. We saw so many of them just stroll right on out of the Capitol.”

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