This week, most of the world took a collective sigh of relief as Joe Biden was inaugurated as president without something incredibly terrible happening. That doesn’t include the most die-hard loyalists on the Trump Train, who spend Wednesday freaking out.
On pro-Trump board The Donald, which was banned from Reddit for rampant hate speech and harassment, users went into meltdown mode and turned on each other as the last vestige of hope that Donald Trump would somehow overturn the election results and remain president for another four years or longer disappeared. Great Awakening, the similarly Reddit-banned hub for QAnon theorists that believe Trump was secretly at war with the pedophiles, approached a state of complete reality failure as their belief Trump would storm the inauguration and arrest Sleepy Joe imploded.
Those on sites for normal people may have noticed a minor downtick in overall dread, though, as Trump remained banned on Twitter, indefinitely locked out of Facebook, and facing similar doom on a number of other social media networks. Ban sprees of other pro-Trump personalities involved in the Capitol incident also seemed to lower the temperature in the room.
Could things finally be improving? No, don’t be a dipshit. Here’s this week’s Hellfeed.
This week the company handed off the decision of whether Trump’s lockout should be permanent to the company’s Oversight Board, the (supposedly) independent body it formed to vet moderation decisions. The Oversight Board is composed mostly of lawyers, scholars, journalists, and human rights activists, and this will be one of its first big decisions—and an opportunity for Facebook to try and deescalate the idea CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other execs unilaterally control what can be said on the site.
The Board’s decisions are binding, meaning Zuckerberg cannot just choose to overrule it, and deliberations will take 90 days, after which Facebook has a week to enforce its ruling. That means a final determination of whether the ex-president can spew vile diatribes, thinly sourced lies, and general pleas for attention to millions on the site won’t be coming until April.
Trump’s bans on Twitter and Snapchat are permanent. He has also been indefinitely banned from Shopify and Twitch, while other social media companies have cracked down on his supporters and groups involved in the Capitol riot.
An October report from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard tracked the spread of hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and misinformation about the U.S. electoral system and determined the key factor was an institutionalized disinformation effort by Trump and his allies in the GOP and mass media. Social media played only a secondary role, according to the study, boosting organized astroturfing originating from a relative handful of superspreaders.
Lo and behold, Twitter, Facebook, and other sites’ decisions to cut the head off the giant appears to have had an immediate and dramatic impact. Without Trump actively shoving this stuff down supporters’ throats, an early study by analytics firm Zignal Labs found that conversations about election fraud on several sites dropped from 2.5 million the week prior to just 688,000 mentions the week after. Other hashtags like #FightForTrump, #HoldTheLine, and “March for Trump” plunged by 95 percent or more.
Parler, the social media site for people more interested in reading Dan Bongino’s opinions on things than interacting with friends or family, is not having a pleasant month. Parler was flooded with death threats and calls for violence from extremist groups before the Capitol riots, and its users were predictably implicated as involved. Google and Apple thus kicked its app off their stores, while Amazon Web Services terminated its cloud hosting, knocking it offline for days. So far, it’s only managed to return in the form of a “Technical Difficulties” page featuring get-well-soon messages from various right-wing chuds.
The site took two more bricks to the face this week. Parler’s been suing Amazon in a legally dubious bid to force the company to bring it back online, and its short-term goal was to convince federal courts to issue an injunction forcing Amazon to boot it back up while that lawsuit proceeds. Per NPR, Judge Barbara Rothstein shot down the injunction request in terms that bode very poorly for Parler’s legal fortunes:
“The Court explicitly rejects any suggestion that the balance of equities or the public interest favors obligating AWS to host the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol,” Rothstein wrote. “That event was a tragic reminder that inflammatory rhetoric can—more swiftly and easily than many of us would have hoped—turn a lawful protest into a violent insurrection.”
Second, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, sent a letter to the FBI this week asking for the agency to investigate Parler for being a “potential facilitator of planning and incitement related to the violence.” Parler has immunity from civil or criminal liability for most of its users’ terrible content under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, so the request to the FBI may fall flat. But Maloney also said the letter was a prelude to a congressional investigation of Parler and other sites facilitating right-wing extremism—potentially exposing it to subpoenas and likely meaning CEO John Matze will be the latest in a series social media execs dragged before Congress to testify. Perhaps he’ll do better than the 8chan weirdo.
Gab, the social network that bills itself as a “free speech” site while serving as an internet hidey-hole for fascists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other unpleasant people, is surging after Parler was taken offline. Between Jan. 6 and Jan. 17, according to NPR, its userbase doubled to 3.4 million and it experienced an 800 percent jump in traffic.
Gab, like Parler, was one of the locations were the flabbergasted and hateful organized the Capitol rampage, and one of its anti-Semitic users posted a message to Gab before killing 11 and wounding six at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018. Gab was hounded off of its U.S. service providers, including cloud hosts, payment providers, and security firms, striking a serious blow to its operations. It managed to crawl back online with the help of cryptocurrency and niche firms like domain registrar Epik, which is known for contracts with white supremacist sites.
There’s no reason to doubt Gab is seeing an influx of users; it’s been directly marketing itself to QAnon supporters and other disgruntled right-wingers over the past few weeks. But there is reason to be very skeptical it’s doing anywhere near as well as it says. A software engineer for Gab’s web host, Sibyl Sytem Ltd., told the Southern Poverty Law Center in February 2019 that its traffic patterns suggested “a few thousand or a few tens of thousands” of users rather than the claimed 800,000.
As of Jan. 20, a running Associated Press count of arrests related to the Capitol riot blew past 125—in large part because the perpetrators live-streamed virtually every single moment of it. This week, ProPublica released an interactive timeline of 500 videos pulled from Parler alone (out of over 2,500 total), aided in part by the site’s sloppy design. That’s not even counting the selfies they took, the text posts detailing exactly where they were, or that most didn’t even attempt to mask their appearances despite the heavy media presence.
It’s extremely easy to assume that this reflects a total lack of self-awareness from many of the rioters as to the trail of digital evidence they were leaving behind and the laws they were filming themselves breaking. But the violence was itself to a great degree the product of incentives for toxic right-wing personalities to go as extreme as feasible in search of viral reach—and for them, the riot conveniently had a dual objective as a monetizable spectacle. Also keep in mind that the horde felt so emboldened reflects their confidence they could run amok with no consequences whatsoever, which is not reassuring!
The government of Poland, which is currently controlled by right-wing populist party Law and Justice, announced it is drafting a law that would allow social media users to contest the deletion of any post that isn’t illegal. The proposal under consideration would entitle users to a response from the social media company in question, which could then be appealed by a government-appointed “Freedom of Speech Council” and in courts. Law and Justice has made it amply clear it views the law as a tool for fighting the shadow cabal of leftist tech CEOs trying to censor criticism.
Uganda ordered internet service providers to cut access to all social media sites and online messaging applications last week before elections on Jan. 14. It also shut down internet access; that was resumed Jan. 18, and the social media bans ended later. The action, came amid a brutal crackdown on opposition to President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement and was explicitly in retaliation for Facebook banning an “inauthentic” network of accounts and pages linked to the Government Citizens Interaction Center, which is run by the government.
- Twitter locked the Chinese Embassy to the U.S. out of its account after it posted a message slurring Uighur women as “baby-making machines,” which it has apparently refused to delete.
- Twitter also banned “@khamenei_site,” an account believed to be linked to... Ali Khamenei, after it posted an image of Trump golfing in the shadow of a drone.
- Far-right provocateur Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, arrested by the FBI for his role in the Capitol riot, apparently managed to evade the notice of TikTok’s moderators until recently.
- Steve Bannon has slithered back out from under a rock onto YouTube, where he was suspended on Jan. 8.
- Various QAnon promoters addicted to Twitter have been creating alt accounts and promptly getting banned.
- A “rogue moderator” [sic] on 8kun, the center of the QAnon universe, apparently decided to ban the site’s entire /gresearch board and delete all messages. The forum is back online, but all the old threads went down the memory hole.
- Late on Thursday, Italian courts reportedly ordered TikTok block access to all users who weren’t verified to be 13 or older after the death of a young woman while recording a viral challenge.