ASU researcher weighs in on role of social media in DC's deadly riot

In the aftermath of Jan. 6's deadly riot in Washington D.C. involving President Donald Trump's supporters, President Trump’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have been suspended.

While a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building amid the Congressional count of the electoral votes, the president posted a video on Twitter and Facebook that reiterated false election fraud claims that had fueled the demonstration at the Capitol. Both platforms deemed that a violation of their rules, so they began removing posts and locked Trump’s accounts.

Officials with Twitter issued a 12-hour block, and threatened a permanent ban should violations continue. Facebook, meanwhile, handed down a 24-hour block, but later extended it indefinitely.

"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," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement posted on the morning of Jan. 7.

"They are trying to slow down the information spread, particularly since they are leveraging the Terms of Service information that is polluting the information environment in some way: inaccurate, misleading, false," said Scott Ruston, a research scientist at Arizona State University.

Ruston says in the history of social media, this is unprecedented. He also touched on the role that social media platforms played in Jan. 6's deadly riot at the nation's capital.

The tragic and violent events were a physical manifestation of a social movement, and social media, because of its power as an information-sharing mechanism, and its capacity to carry and distribute disinformation, it can breed misunderstanding," said Ruston.

Users on sites like Facebook have spoken out in response to the social media platforms' decision to ban Trump. Some disagreed, writing things such as "censorship is never OK. They are taking control of our lives," and "Communist censorship. Socialism here we come." Others agreed, writing "there is freedom of speech in this country, but you can’t knowingly spread lies that could damage this country."

Ruston says in terms of the 1st Amendment, there is legally a difference between government control and private companies censoring material.

"There is freedom of expression and freedom of speech," said Ruston. "The rights, however, are in the constitution. The protection from the government restricting that speech."

Moving forward, Ruston had advice for social media users. He says to look at a post on social, if it is highly emotional or not from a legitimate news source, to think again before the post is shared.