Washington Post

Social media is finally pulling the plug on the social media president.

The incitements to violence had been coming fast and thick from President Donald Trump’s accounts across platforms — some subtler than others. Yet it was only once violence was successfully incited with Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol that the sites acted decisively: a 12-hour lockout of Trump’s account on Twitter (which was made permanent late Friday) and a 24-hour freeze on Facebook that turned into a ban until at least Inauguration Day. YouTube announced that any channels posting new videos including false claims in violation of their policies would receive a strike — three of which will result in permanent channel removal.

These steps were necessary, even if they were rooted not in transparent rules but rather in panicked reaction to a crisis. The arguments against barring Trump relied on the idea that unimpeded speech from political leaders is essential to the functioning of a constitutional democracy. When a leader encourages the subversion of the Constitution, the equation changes. Researchers have discovered that repeat offenders, particularly elites, disproportionately drive the spread of dangerous disinformation. That means restricting a small group of accounts can make a big difference. Trump is repeat offender No. 1.

Yet today must be only the beginning of an attempt to restore a shared reality that has shattered over the past four years. The men and women who forcibly interrupted Wednesday’s proceedings did so because they falsely believed that voting machines were tampered with, ballots shredded and counts changed. They have been fed meal after meal of poisonous misinformation by conservative influencers online, alternative media and, of course, elected officials. Some are disciples of the QAnon conspiracy theory; by breaching the building, they thought, they would set into motion a day of reckoning against a cabal of child molesters and devil-worshippers. Instead, no such thing happened, and the resultant cognitive dissonance threatens to propel people only further down a rabbit hole.

We already know what’s coming next: The same rumormongering machine that spread the lies leading up to this week’s disaster now accuses the mob of being antifa affiliates. The evidence, of course, is all to the contrary. Yet that hasn’t stopped congressmen such as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Rep. Paul A. Gosar, R-Ariz.; and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., from using their prominent perches to propagate the delusion.

Much of the burden to fight the assault on truth rests with a Republican Party that is only now beginning to show glimmers of resistance. But much of that burden also rests with the sites that allowed bad actors to warp the worlds of so many citizens. They must stem the spread of misinformation according to clear rules that stem from clear principles, and they must promote accurate information in the manner the evidence tells us is most likely to persuade. Both of these undertakings will likely require some trial and error.

We know what’s broken: Our nation is riven into two realities, only one of which is actually real. We must now set about the excruciatingly difficult task of fixing it.

(2) comments

Mike Johnson

This nation is so hopelessly divided and polarized, with so many hating others because of politics, nothing will "knit" us together. Absurd!

Richard Irell

This started in 2016 with the ridiculous claim by Trump that he won the popular vote. There was no evidence to support this absurdity, yet millions of gullible Republicans believed it.

And so he set the stage for the lies he told in 2020 even before the election, stating that the only way he could possibly lose was by fraud. Virtually every Republican in a position of power gave credence to this lie or remained silent, making them complicit in what is happening now.

Even in Trump’s attempt to coerce the Georgia Secretary of State to overturn the will of the people, he could provide zero evidence of fraud two months after the election.

Are there good Republicans? Yes, but they would seem to be a small minority in the party.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.