There is no question that social media played a role in the siege and take-over of the US Capitol on January 6.
Since then there has been significant focus on the deplatforming of President Donald Trump. By all means the question of when to deplatform a head of state is a critical one, among many that must be addressed. When should platforms make these decisions? Is that decision-making power theirs alone?
But as reprehensible as the actions of Donald Trump are, the rampant use of the internet to foment violence and hate, and reinforce white supremacy is about more than any one personality. Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to exploit the architecture of the internet in this way, and he won’t be the last. We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done.
Changing these dangerous dynamics requires more than just the temporary silencing or permanent removal of bad actors from social media platforms.
Additional precise and specific actions must also be taken:
Reveal who is paying for advertisements, how much they are paying and who is being targeted.
Commit to meaningful transparency of platform algorithms so we know how and what content is being amplified, to whom, and the associated impact.
Turn on by default the tools to amplify factual voices over disinformation.
Work with independent researchers to facilitate in-depth studies of the platforms’ impact on people and our societies, and what we can do to improve things.
These are actions the platforms can and should commit to today. The answer is not to do away with the internet, but to build a better one that can withstand and gird against these types of challenges. This is how we can begin to do that.