If Americans truly want a full accounting of what happened on January 6, who was responsible, and who must be punished, Big Tech must be part of the accounting.
Nearly 300 Americans face a slew of charges related to the melee on Capitol Hill last January. As I’ve reported over the past few months, offenses range from assaulting a police officer to destroying government property to trespassing.
More than 70 protestors stand accused of “aiding and abetting” various crimes; even people who didn’t vandalize the Capitol or even enter the building have been charged with helping others do damage and interrupt Congress’ certification of the Electoral College results.
Nonviolent offenders languish behind bars for months, denied bail, and transported to Washington, D.C. to await delayed trials. Federal prosecutors suggest President Trump could be indicted for fueling the chaos that day. Democratic congressmen want their Republican colleagues held accountable for their alleged role, too.
One entity, however, appears to be off the hook so far: Big Tech. Social media platforms were instrumental in communicating and organizing the so-called “insurrection” to destroy our democracy, as it’s hyperbolically described by the Left and plenty of Republicans. If random Americans can be held legally responsible for others who commit crimes, then why are Silicon Valley tycoons with immense power and loads of money not similarly liable?
Facebook As Conduit
I’ve reviewed thousands of pages of charging documents and can confirm much of the evidence collected by investigators was found on the defendants’ own social media accounts. Facebook accounts posted the most incriminating content by far.
For example, in the Justice Department’s conspiracy case against the Oath Keepers, the defendants are accused of “[u]sing websites, social media, text messaging, and messaging applications to recruit other individuals to travel to Washington, D.C., to support the January 6 operation.”
In addition to a conspiracy charge, all 10 Oath Keepers face one count of “aiding and abetting” the obstruction of an official proceeding, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
But the Oath Keepers’ alleged conspiracy very likely would not have been possible without Facebook. As early as mid-December, according to the indictment, Oath Keepers were using Facebook to post information and direct message others about the January 6 protest. “Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!!” Kelly Meggs wrote on Facebook on December 22. “He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Gentlemen we are heading to D C (sic) pack your shit!!”
The group continued to communicate and make plans via Facebook leading up to the fateful day. “We are surging forward. Doors breached,” Thomas Caldwell wrote on Facebook at 2:48 p.m. on January 6. “Inside,” he wrote at 3:05 p.m.
That case is just one example of how often January 6 protestors used Facebook to plot the alleged “insurrection.” An analysis conducted by Parler, the right-leaning social media company deplatformed after January 6, showed that more than half of those arrested so far have allegedly incriminating Facebook posts or messages.
Zuckerberg Tap Dances Around the Facts
Ironically, one person demanding repercussions for anyone, including President Trump, involved in the Capitol protest refuses to accept responsibility for his company’s key role in what happened on January 6. During a congressional hearing last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg boasted how his company worked with law enforcement to identify the “insurrectionists.”
But when pressed by Representative Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, about whether Facebook was culpable for “disseminating disinformation related to the election . . . that led to the attack on the Capitol,” Zuckerberg was far more timid; after he tap-danced in his response, Doyle noted the Facebook mogul “chooses not to answer the question.”
Facebook, along with YouTube and Twitter, immediately deplatformed Trump for his role in allegedly fueling the mayhem that day. On January 7, Zuckerberg announced the company would remove the president’s account after determining the intent of Trump’s posts “would be to provoke further violence.”
Twitter, also a key communications portal before and during January 6, permanently suspended Trump’s heavily used account with nearly 90 million followers two days later. The company claimed two tweets violated its “glorification of violence” policy.
So if the sitting president of the United States along with regular Americans can be punished for using these platforms to allegedly stoke violence, what is the liability of the companies themselves? I am not arguing that Facebook and Twitter should, or even can, be responsible for the content of every user—but if they want to play this game, and the Justice Department wants to criminalize social media posts, why should the purveyors of this contraband communication be spared?
Parler Was a Useful Scapegoat
Only one social media company—Parler—has paid a steep price for its alleged role in the events of January 6. Big Tech titans aligned and targeted the nascent platform favored by the Right, undoubtedly to deflect from their own culpability.
Apple banned Parler from its app store on January 9 and Google removed Parler from its Google Play app. But the company’s death blow came January 10 when Amazon removed Parler from its cloud hosting service. Amazon Web Services told a Parler executive it had identified “98 examples . . . of posts that clearly encourage and incite violence” in the weeks before the Capitol protest.
But that represented a tiny minority of January 6-related posts found on social media. In a letter to Congress, Parler executives detailed the volume of dangerous posts on Twitter, including more than 14,000 tweets with the hashtag #HangMikePence.
“It is now well-documented and understood by honest observers that incitement occurred far more frequently on Big Tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter than Parler,” Michael S. Dry and Ephraim Wernick wrote to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in a letter dated March 25.
Big Tech, Dry and Wernick claim, used Parler as a ruse to evade responsibility for the Capitol breach while knocking out a competitor at the same time. “It is thus time for Big Tech’s scapegoating of Parler to stop and for Congress to start investigating the real story here: how Big Tech giants colluded to destroy a small start-up company just as it began to pose a credible threat to their dominance on social media,” they wrote.
The company also disclosed it had referred violent threats to the FBI at least 50 times before January 6.
If Americans truly want a full accounting of what happened on January 6—who was responsible and who should be punished—Big Tech must be part of any sort of reckoning. Veterans and high schoolers shouldn’t be the only people paying a dear price for an event some compare to the Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11; if January 6 was indeed a domestic terrorist attack, then Big Tech, not Donald Trump, acted as the rented truck or the doomed airliner. They “aided and abetted” more violence and destruction than a handful of Oath Keepers.
Let them be treated accordingly.