The pros and cons of 'deplatforming' – Our experts are being asked if it works and if there’s an upside to turning people off

The pros and cons of 'deplatforming' – Our experts are being asked if it works and if there’s an upside to turning people off

January 15, 20212 min read

After an incited and encouraged crowd of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol buildings last earlier this month – social media, or at least the executives that run companies like Twitter and Facebook had had enough and opted to oust President Donald Trump from their platforms.

Donald Trump has been ‘deplatformed’ and no longer has easy access to an audience of millions of followers.

The concept of deplatforming is being widely debated. And recently, University of Connecticut’s Ugochukwu Etudo was asked to lend his expert perspective on the idea.

Does the deplatforming of prominent figures and movement leaders who command large followings online work? That depends on the criteria for the success of the policy intervention. If it means punishing the target of the deplatforming so they pay some price, then without a doubt it works. For example, right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter in 2016 and Facebook in 2019, and subsequently complained about financial hardship.

If it means dampening the odds of undesirable social outcomes and unrest, then in the short term, yes. But it is not at all certain in the long term. In the short term, deplatforming serves as a shock or disorienting perturbation to a network of people who are being influenced by the target of the deplatforming. This disorientation can weaken the movement, at least initially.

However, there is a risk that deplatforming can delegitimize authoritative sources of information in the eyes of a movement’s followers, and remaining adherents can become even more ardent. Movement leaders can reframe deplatforming as censorship and further proof of a mainstream bias.

There is reason to be concerned about the possibility that driving people who engage in harmful online behavior into the shadows further entrenches them in online environments that affirm their biases. Far-right groups and personalities have established a considerable presence on privacy-focused online platforms, including the messaging platform Telegram. This migration is concerning because researchers have known for some time that complete online anonymity is associated with increased harmful behavior online.

In deplatforming policymaking, among other considerations, there should be an emphasis on justice, harm reduction and rehabilitation. Policy objectives should be defined transparently and with reasonable expectations in order to avoid some of these negative unintended consequences. January 15 – The Conversation

If you’re a journalist covering deplatforming and would like to talk with Ugochukwu Etudo – simply click on his icon today and we’ll arrange an interview today.

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