After a deadly insurrection overwhelmed Capitol Hill on Wednesday, ignited by President Donald Trump’s denial of election results, tech giants finally took action against him.
As of Thursday, Twitter (TWTR), Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram (FB), and Snapchat (SNAP) have all suspended the president’s accounts indefinitely. Over the weekend, Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG, GOOGL) removed Parler, a social network favored by Trump supporters, from its app stores. Amazon (AMZN) suspended the company from using its cloud service.
Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business and a vocal critic of big tech and its unchecked power, reflected on how the U.S. ended up in this state of chaos in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live on Friday.
“How did we get here, when we have essentially a mob Insurrection on our capital, and our lawmakers have to use furniture to secure the doors? And we find that the most meaningful action or what we find the next day is that we're begging 30-something-year-old CEOs of companies to block their account. So you sort of have to wonder, how did we get here?”
“I'd like to think that this is the beginning of the end of Big Tech as we know it. I think this is another example that when you have algorithms that are profit-driven, and these algorithms are different, and figure out the tribalism, and dividing us, is very profitable. And it ends up in an overrun or a seizure of the U.S. Capitol,” he said.
‘The place to start is with breaking these guys up’
Twitter was the first to boot Trump permanently, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.” Similarly, Facebook executives said: “We believe the risks of allowing President Trump to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great” in a blog post announcing the decision to suspend his accounts indefinitely. These social media behemoths have been criticized from both sides, some arguing that the damage has already been done and others claiming the platforms have no place in meddling with “free speech.”
With Democrats effectively taking the majority of both the U.S. House and Senate this month, the lack of political gridlock could make it easier for lawmakers to pass legislation. That includes potentially reforming or doing away with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives websites broad legal immunity for content posted by others on their sites.
The provision was signed into law in 1996 during the dawn of the internet when it was hard to imagine the misinformation, disinformation, and extremist content that would come to proliferate the web. The Capitol Hill riots have further ignited the demands to reform the law.
“Section 230 briefly protects interactive or nascent interactive platforms that are no longer nascent from being subject to legal liability if somebody puts content on the platform that inflames, antagonizes, or slanders a party. So they've basically been exonerated from that,” said Galloway, noting that traditional platforms like newspapers don’t receive such legal protection.
But Galloway argues there needs to be more antitrust regulation beyond Section 230 reform. Indeed, regulators began to take unprecedented action against Big Tech last year.
In October, the Justice Department accused Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly in search and advertising. Two months later, FTC accused Facebook of engaging in anti-competitive practices — specifically, buying its key competitors to maintain its dominance in social networking. The FTC suit went farther than the Justice Department by seeking to actually break up Facebook, a solution that Galloway agrees with.
“I think the place to start is with breaking these guys up. I think that it's telling that we seem to be always begging the same one or two firms,” he said. “I think increased competition would be good.”
Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s West Coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.