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Tech Under Pressure After Parler Goes Dark, Twitter Drops

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Giles Turner
·4 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- Technology companies tried to contain a mounting backlash against their social media sites, with shares of Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. falling in early trading and rival platform Parler forced offline by Amazon.com Inc.

Many conservatives said the moves to expunge President Donald Trump from the social networks and take down an app popular with his supporters went too far. Twitter was down about 5% Monday morning, reflecting shareholder uncertainty about the permanent removal of one of the site’s biggest accounts and the legislative consequence that could follow. Facebook’s share were down 3%.

Parler, whose chief executive officer, John Matze, pitches the network as a safe place for free speech, went down early on Monday after Amazon Web Services shut off access to its servers, leaving it without a home. Both Google and Apple Inc. kicked Parler from their stores, making it almost impossible to download the app.

Read More: Apps Claiming ‘Free Speech’ for Users Vie to Take Parler’s Place

The bans were strongly criticized by senior lawmakers in Germany and France. Chancellor Angela Merkel argued lawmakers should set the rules governing free speech, not technology companies, while French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that the state should be responsible for regulations, rather than “the digital oligarchy,” and called big tech “one of the threats” to democracy.

The big tech companies justified their actions by citing posts stoking riots in the U.S. capital last week and sought to avoid further incitements to violence. The bans underscore the power these companies hold over how information is disseminated and the impact their decisions have. Before, it was their stance to allow incendiary speech from Trump and his allies that drew heavy criticism from the left.

Regulatory risks for social media companies will persist even though Democrats will control the Congress and White House, Bank of America analyst Justin Post wrote in a note to clients. Twitter is also likely to see some usage decline as a result of dismissing the president, he wrote.

Meanwhile, Parler has so far been unable to find other web hosting services willing to step in, because of the negative publicity stemming from the violence, organized in part on its own platform. “This is not due to software restrictions -- we have our software and everyone’s data ready to go,” said Matze. “Rather it’s that Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s statements to the press about dropping our access has caused most of our other vendors to drop their support for us as well.”

Even some e-commerce and payments sites are now reassessing doing business with companies linked to Trump. Stripe Inc. will stop processing payments for Trump’s campaign website, according to a person familiar with the decision. Shopify Inc. shut down online stores affiliated with Trump.

Before last week’s violence, lawmakers and civil rights advocates had long been pressuring social media platforms to crack down on posts that encourage violence or hatred. While regulators in Europe have passed laws fining companies that fail to act on hate speech, the U.S. has largely left regulation to the companies. Twitter first put warning labels on Trump’s tweets that supported the Capitol rioters, then hid them, before suspending the account.

Despite his success on Twitter and Facebook, Trump has been among those calling for reforms to the social media platforms. The president has long demanded that Congress revoke Section 230, a liability waiver that social media companies depend upon to allow relatively unfettered speech on their platforms.

During his last week in office, Trump may look to push through changes to Section 230 though the likelihood of making any meaningful policy changes is small. Trump has prepared several executive orders related to the big tech companies, but it’s not clear if any will be issued, Bloomberg reported.

“I’m more determined than ever to strip Section 230 protections from Big Tech (Twitter) that let them be immune from lawsuits,” tweeted Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican fromSouth Carolina.

(Updates with context in fourth paragraph, analyst note in the seventh paragraph.)

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