In the past, social media companies have waited too long to remove accounts inciting death and destruction. Starting in 2013, the Myanmar military created fake Facebook profiles that directed vicious hatred at the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. The online campaign incited genocide and the rape of tens of thousands of women, resulting in the largest forced human migration in recent history. In 2018, Facebook admitted that it did “not do enough to prevent the platform from being used to foment violence.”
Social media companies should learn from this mistake to say enough is enough. More than 450,000 people have died in the U.S. due to COVID-19, in part because of Trump’s downplaying and politicizing of the deadly pandemic. Five people died at the Capitol, in part due to Trump’s incitement. Trump has promoted hateful, racist, and xenophobic views, and supported white supremacists with a wink and a nod. We should not have to wait until more health disinformation is spread, more hate is sown, and more people die before we acknowledge the clear and present danger that Trump poses. Everything tells us that Trump’s past is nothing other than a prologue.
Trump, of course, is not the world’s only demagogue. The decision facing Facebook and others will recur across the globe as dangerous authoritarians wreak havoc on individuals, societies, and democracies, while cowardly hiding behind their screens. Trump is not sui generis and companies should be ready to ban or block officials whose policy violations pose a threat to the public, as Twitter has done when they suspended Rep. Greene for promoting the baseless QAnon conspiracy, and blocked COVID-related misinformation posted by Brazil’s president Bolsonaro, Venezuela’s president Maduro, and Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei.