The attack on the Capitol is fueling a backlash against social media

January 8, 2021, 2:45 PM UTC

The shock waves from Wednesday’s attack on the U.S. Capitol continue to reverberate. And as Danielle explored in yesterday’s newsletter, the crisis is roiling social and online media, where the attack was discussed and planned ahead of time, incited in the moment, and debated afterwards.

In the past 48 hours, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and Snap all took President Trump’s accounts offline. Shopify took down pro-Trump stores and YouTube removed and labeled specific videos. And while some services including Twitter reinstated Trump’s accounts a short time later, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to keep Trump’s account shut down for at least two weeks.

“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” the CEO wrote in a post on Thursday. In the past, Facebook had allowed Trump to remain online “because we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech,” he explained. “But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”

Still, the crisis has hardly settled the debate over the proper regulating or policing of social media in the future. And it’s already igniting calls for stricter rules, whether imposed by the industry or by new legislation.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal called for much stronger regulation of the companies. “They have done enduring damage to their own credibility,” he told the Washington Post, “and these events will renew and refocus the need for Congress to reform big tech.”

But former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos pushed back, arguing that there are no easy answers. “The platform policy conversation that is mostly incubated here and that dominates policy circles continues to be worryingly moralistic and simple,” Stamos wrote on Twitter. “These issues are tied up in the incentives and structures of the traditional media environment, the simultaneous weakness and power of US political parties, and really hard issues of privacy and free association.”

As Stamos implies, banning a figure from Twitter has little impact on traditional media like cable TV or the rise of more fringe online services like Parler. And it doesn’t stop allies and supporters who have not been banned from pushing the same messages.

“It’s a lot like playing whack-a-mole,” Mike Horner, director at the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech University, told Danielle yesterday. “You try to stop one claim and another one pops up. It’s really hard to stop.”

Zuckerberg’s strong move against Trump may be in part an attempt to get ahead of the fierce policy debate that is no doubt coming. The terms of that debate, as Facebook’s change signals, have shifted decidedly against the laissez-faire approach that has governed until now.

Aaron Pressman


Nothing good starts in a vaporware car. Back in the land of pure technology, we have semi-conflicting reports about Apple's on-again, off-again electric automobile ambitions. Bloomberg reports sources who say an Apple car is at least five to seven years off. Then CNBC reported carmaker Hyundai openly admitting it was in talks "at an early stage" to make a deal to manufacture Apple's rumored iCar. But hours after making the statement, and seeing its stock price jump 20%, Hyundai revised its statement to remove Apple's name.

Oh my, SoFi. On Wall Street, online lender SoFi has decided to go public by merging with a SPAC created by former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The deal will value the startup at almost $9 billion. In future IPO news, Instacart hired Goldman Sachs tech banker Nick Giovanni as its new CFO, a clear signal that it is on a path to go public as well. That won't be the case for pioneering online bank Simple. Spanish bank BBVA bought Simple in 2014. But the online bank won't survive the recent deal where BBVA dumped its American operations on PNC Financial.

Around the table. As President-elect Biden continues to fill out his cabinet, he selected Rhode Island governor and former venture capitalist Gina Raimondo as his Secretary of Commerce. Raimondo worked at Bain's Village Ventures and co-founded Point Judith Capital in 2001 before entering politics in 2011.

Melting into California gold. Good golly, bitcoin, how high will you fly? After doubling in price from October to December, the world's leading crypto coin breached $20,000 for the first time. In just two weeks, it hit $30,000 and now, one week later, it's over $40,000. Elon Musk has called bitcoin "almost as bs as fiat money," but his vast stock holdings of Tesla shares are also rapidly ascending in what might be another speculative bubble. The Tesla boom helped Musk surpass Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the world's richest person on Thursday. Musk also apparently has opinions about WhatsApp sharing user data with its owner, Facebook. He recommended everyone switch to rival messaging app Signal.


I have admitted previously my long and tangled journey to organize my digital life. Writer Robert Minto details his lifelong effort to take and organize notes via digital means. It has never quite worked out as hoped, he concludes in an essay for Real Life magazine.

This is a widespread mistake among those who think that a sexy note-taking app like Roam will suddenly free their minds, or that they can train themselves into geniuses with enough spaced repetition, or that they can build a zettelkasten capable of thinking original thoughts for them. Strange though it seems, all these quintessentially modern delusions are already predicted in the myth of Theuth. We will keep attempting to disrupt thought and, as usual, we will only manage to interrupt it.


A few great long reads I came across this week:

Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine (The Atlantic)
The architecture of the modern web poses grave threats to humanity. It’s not too late to save ourselves.

My Mommies and Me (Jewish Currents)
In February, I decided to follow some Mormon mommy bloggers on Instagram... I’d followed them, at first, so I could gape at the uncanny landscaping of their lives—but the more I watched them, the more I noticed their imperfections, their vulnerabilities.

The Cruise Ship Suicides (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Confined mostly to tiny cabins as he pandemic unfolded, crew members struggled to cope.

‘Notes’ Is the iPhone’s Killer App. Yes, Really. (Debugger)
Organize your present and lend a helping hand to your future


5G will get better this year, promises Verizon exec By Aaron Pressman

Roblox soars ahead of its public market debut By Lucinda Shen

A record 12,200 U.S. stores closed in 2020 as e-commerce, pandemic changed retail forever By Phil Wahba

Is Apple teaming up with Hyundai on a self-driving, electric car? Don’t bet on it By Jeremy Kahn

Livestream shopping is the next big thing in retail By Mike George

Crypto giant Grayscale names Sonnenshein as CEO By Jeff John Roberts

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


The British street artist known as Banksy has been a favorite for many years. A few weeks ago, I noted here his new "big sneeze" mural. But if you need more of a Banksy fix and you feel like the artist isn't producing enough work to satisfy your craving, check out this A.I.-driven simulation of Banksy. Though not nearly as clever as the original, exploring "Ganksy" has been a solid distraction in these crazy times. Have a good weekend.

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