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Analyzing the 'information role' big tech has in the coordination, motivation of riots: MIT Professor

Sinan Aral, MIT David Austin Professor of Mgmt. and “The Hype Machine” Author, joined Yahoo FInance Live to break down how the pro-Trump riots in Washinton DC are impacting the economy and what they mean for big tech.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: We want to turn and look at the role of big tech in all of this. And for that, we want to bring in Sinan Aral-- he is the author of "The Hype Machine"-- on how this really could impact some of those big tech giants that we've talked about, like Facebook and Twitter here.

And Sinan, when you take a look at the role that big tech has played-- at least today, they have been flagging tweets. They have been fighting those that they say could incite violence. But from your perspective, what do you think the role of big tech has been and should be in this type of situation? And it looks like you might be muted. Just unmute.

SINAN ARAL: Rather than just focus on superficial social media tweets or posts, I think it's worthwhile to think about the underlying information ecosystem that is contributing to coordinating and enabling this kind of activity. So people who study the riot process, people who understand deeply the concept of protest and the concept of violence erupting from riots and protests, understand that this does not happen without information. Information is necessary to motivate. Information is necessary to coordinate.

Social proof that you see others in your community saying they will or are actually in the capital doing, what you are thinking about doing, that others are supportive of what you're thinking about doing, all of this type of information is essential to this kind of outcome. And what we've seen, whether it's in the plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan and different types of Boogaloo Bois arrests and violence, in what we're seeing in the capital today, in even the Pizzagate scandal, where the person who was believing in those conspiracy theories about the pizza parlor, who shot up the pizza parlor, information is absolutely essential to all of these dot coms--



ADAM SHAPIRO: It's Adam. It's good to see you. We only have about two minutes. So what do we do? The Biden administration, as well as Republicans, want to repeal Section 230. And I know we only have two minutes. Is that enough? Is that what you do?

SINAN ARAL: No, repealing Section 230 will either cause social media to become a swamp if the social media companies decide not to moderate anything, or it will completely curtail speech if they decide to moderate everything. The protection from civil liability allows them to make educated choices about moderation, which is a much better middle ground. We can reform Section 230, but we can't repeal it. Otherwise, large parts of the internet will be destroyed for the free internet.

What I'm really concerned about, Adam, is, what's going to happen next? What's going to happen tonight? What's going to happen in the next two weeks before the inauguration? And what is the information role in what happens tonight and the next two weeks? What's Facebook's role in stopping the coordination, the motivation, and the social proof? What's Twitter's role? How can we subvert sort of the information motivation and mobilization of this kind of violence?

SEANA SMITH: Sinan, real quick, we only have about a minute here. But just your biggest concern here between now and tomorrow morning. I know you were saying that the role of information and what that plays and what these big tech giants need to do, but what's your biggest concern right at this point?

SINAN ARAL: My biggest concern is that social media platforms, through private messaging, through public messaging, through shows of public support, will be used to motivate, coordinate, and mobilize further violence. And I think that there are ways that the platforms can curtail this.

And I think that they have a responsibility to make sure that any information that is advocating violence, supporting violence, advocating the violent overthrow of the government, and so on, be stemmed. This is a content moderation decision. It is a flash point in actual physical violence. Someone was shot on the Capitol today. And I think they have a responsibility to play a role here.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Sinan Aral is author of "The Hype Machine." We appreciate you joining us here on Yahoo Finance Live.