Tech giants banished Trump. Now things get complicated

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FILE - This combination of photos shows logos for social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. For the past four years, President Donald Trump has enjoyed special status not given to regular users on Twitter and Facebook even as he used his perch atop the social media pyramid to peddle misinformation and hurl abuse at his critics. Could his loose leash on the platforms come to an end on Jan. 20, 2021, when his successor is inaugurated? (AP Photo/File)

As the world adjusts to a Twitter without @realdonaldtrump, the next big question is: “Now what?"

Major tech platforms, long accused of giving President Donald Trump special treatment not allotted to regular users, have shown him the door in the wake of his incitement of violence by supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He’s gone from Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat — even Shopify.

But in many ways, booting the president was the easy part.

Will companies now hold other world leaders to the same standard? Will they wade further into deciding what is and isn't allowed on their platforms, potentially alienating large swaths of their user base? Will all this lead to further online splintering, pushing those flirting with extreme views to fringe sites and secret chat groups?

Although they've long sought to remain neutral, Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms are slowly waking up to the active role they and their algorithms have played in shaping a modern world filled with polarized, angry groups and huge factions falling for bogus conspiracies and misinformation about science, politics and medicine.

“What we’re seeing is a shift from the platforms from a stance of free-speech absolutism, towards an understanding of speech moderation as a matter of public health," said civic media professor Ethan Zuckerman of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

None of this can be fixed soon, if ever. Certainly not by blocking a president with just a few days left in his term.

But there are blueprints for future action. Remember “Plandemic?" That was the slickly-produced, 26-minute, misinformation-ridden video promoting COVID-19 conspiracies that emerged seemingly out of nowhere and racked up millions of views in a matter of days. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube scrambled to take it down — too late. But they were ready for the sequel, which failed to attract even a fraction of the attention of the first.