News & Politics

Should Social Media Companies Be Blamed for Capitol Hill Attack?

Should Social Media Companies Be Blamed for Capitol Hill Attack?
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

I don’t like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram any more than any other free speech advocate. But blaming them for the assault on the Capitol is hardly the answer.

Democrats are apparently incensed that what they consider to be “incitement” to riot appeared on social media platforms. They are also angry that Donald Trump was free to spout his theories about the election. They are vowing to act against people they define as “dangerous extremists.”

A blind person can see where this is headed. Anyone, any idea, any organized opposition to their policies could be deemed “extremist” and be banned from speaking out on social media.


“This is going to come back and bite ‘em because Congress, in a bipartisan way, is going to come back with a vengeance,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO.

The result is that Democrats, whose ire at the tech industry had already dramatically risen since the 2016 elections, are talking about bringing new levels of scrutiny and consequences to the companies, including stepping up efforts to narrow or overhaul liability protections for sites that host violent or dangerous messages.

Republicans have their own ax to grind with social media companies but do they realize that some of the same people they believe are being persecuted will be banned if the Democrats get their way?

A slew of prominent Democrats rebuked social media companies — ranging from tech giants like Facebook and YouTube to smaller, more free-wheeling platforms like Gab and Parler — for not taking more forceful action against those who organized and executed Wednesday’s pro-Trump rally. What began as a protest, featuring an in-person address by the president, escalated into a full-blown storming of the Capitol building that left four people dead.

“Congress was attacked yesterday by a mob that was radicalized in an echo chamber that Facebook and other big platforms created,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, who has criticized the way tech companies amplify potentially harmful content to their users.

What is “hate speech”? What is “incitement to violence”? What is “extremism”? The “I know it when I see it” argument is bogus. We’re talking about skating very close to the line of censorship when using subjective criteria to define these terms. As it is, the social media censors are far too sensitive about right-wing “extremism” and not very sensitive at all about extremism on the left.”

But liberal lawmakers took particular aim at the industry’s leading companiessuch as Facebook and Twitter, for not kicking Trump off their platforms, despite years of warnings from Democratic leaders, civil rights groups and other advocates that the president’s online rhetoric was inspiring real-world harm.

Those efforts met resistance Thursday from one top Republican, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, who said that “censoring” the president would have “serious free speech consequences that will extend far beyond President Trump’s time in office.”

McMorris-Rodgers is absolutely correct. Trump is a lot of things but first and foremost he is a political figure. That he incites hate and violence is a completely subjective analysis not based on any rational definition. By banning Trump, they’d be banning his politics. As rancid as some people find his beliefs, they are promoted within the sphere of the political arena.

If you’re going to ban Trump, why not ban anti-Semitic hatemonger Louis Farrakhan? If you’re going to ban Trump for “misinformation,” there ‘s a long line of liberal Democrats who would be right behind him. Their exaggerated, hysterical rhetoric about capitalism and white privilege was echoed in the streets while cities burned last summer.

The genius of the First Amendment is that it is virtually absolute. You can’t single out one side for censorship and not the other. And who wants to be the arbiter that answers the question of why extremist rhetoric on one side is worse than the other?

It won’t work unless there is free speech for all.