Online platforms are hastily cutting ties with Donald Trump and his ilk after years of milquetoast responses to the hateful and violent rhetoric fomenting under their watch, and all it took was a deadly insurgency at the nation’s capital. However, Mozilla says deplatforming doesn’t go far enough and has called for investigations and increased transparency into how sites target users for advertising and content recommendations.
On Friday, Mozilla, the privacy and security nonprofit behind the Firefox browser, denounced this week’s events and the role it believes online platforms had in stoking the flames. Mozilla characterised the assault on the Capitol as “the culmination of a four-year disinformation campaign” by Trump.
“Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to exploit the architecture of the internet in this way, and he won’t be the last,” wrote CEO Mitchell Baker in a company blog post. “We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done.”
Because while it’s still important for sites to temporarily or permanently silence bad actors, they’re stuck playing a never–ending game of whack-a-mole with bigots if they fail to incorporate preventative measures.
To change the “dangerous dynamics” online that facilitated this kind of violent uprising, Baker urged platforms to be more open about their ad targeting practices by revealing who has been funding ad campaigns, how much they paid, and who they targeted. All of which is inarguably in users’ best interest to know, if the 2016 presidential election has taught us anything.
She added that platforms need to “commit to meaningful transparency” of their algorithms for recommending content, and automatically enable any settings or tools designed to amplify verified sources of information. Finally, she called for social networks to work with independent researchers to better understand the wider impacts their platforms and moderation policies have on people.
“The answer is not to do away with the internet, but to build a better one that can withstand and gird against these types of challenges,” Baker wrote.
It’s a tall order, but one that echoes complaints that have been haunting Silicon Valley for years. Wednesday’s riot is just the latest example of how extremists groups and other political interests have weaponised social media to orchestrate violence and sow disinformation. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have repeatedly come under fire for not doing enough to keep misinformation from spreading on their respective platforms. Some tech experts have gone so far as to draw a line from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube’s moderation missteps to this week’s insurrection. Tech venture capitalist Chris Sacca directly singled out Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a tweet Wednesday night:
“You’ve got blood on your hands, @jack and Zuck. For four years you’ve rationalized this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise. If you work at those companies, it’s on you too. Shut it down.”
It’s not enough to shut it down, though. As Mozilla suggests, online platforms will have to take a proactive approach to stamping out these fires if they don’t want to get burned again.