How the biggest tech companies are working to prevent more violence on Inauguration Day


(Yahoo Finance)

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, tech companies ranging from Facebook and Twitter to Google have moved to stop the spread of violent content on their platforms. With the presidential inauguration set for Jan. 20, those sites, as well as others including Shopify and Etsy, have moved to address similar content on their platforms related to the day’s event.

Here’s how some of the biggest tech companies in the world are working to address the volatile situation in Washington and reduce the chances of violence occurring on Inauguration Day.

Airbnb (ABNB)
On Thursday, Airbnb announced it would not take new reservations and that it would cancel existing ones in the Washington, D.C. area during inauguration week. HotelTonight, which was acquired by Airbnb in 2019, will also cancel all reservations.

There are roughly 5,000 properties in the DC area, with hosts making an average daily rate of about $145, though the occupancy rate was about 55% this time last year, according to AirDNA, which scrapes and analyzes data on Airbnb and VRBO. Airbnb will reimburse hosts for the payouts and the company is exempting those who previously booked long-term stays and honoring requests for medical/hardship examples (which will be reviewed and confirmed by Airbnb).

Airbnb’s decision to block reservations fits into its “Capitol Safety Plan” it announced earlier this week, which also included banning individuals identified as involved in criminal activity during the insurrection on Jan. 6 and enforcing stricter ID verification checks.

This move comes as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser asks the public not to attend the inauguration. “Airbnb’s work continues to be informed by inputs from our local host community as well as Washington, D.C. officials, Metro Police and Members of Congress throughout this week,” the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, major hotel groups like Marriott (MAR), IntercontinentalHotelGroup (IHG), Hilton (HLT), and Hyatt (H) remain open amid cries from D.C.’s hotel workers union and other activist groups to shut down hotels during the week of inauguration. As of Friday afternoon, Expedia-owned VRBO (EXPE) did not announce any restrictions and listings remain active and available.

Etsy (ETSY)
Etsy, known for its unique, handmade items, has been a go-to destination for shoppers during the coronavirus pandemic. Etsy sellers have 80 million items for sale on the platform ranging from masks to personalized gifts, and the company uses a mix of automated and manual tools to monitor the marketplace.

Etsy’s existing policy prohibits sellers from listing items that promote hate or violence. This week CEO Josh Silverman wrote a blog post addressing the riots on Capitol Hill and emphasizing the company’s zero tolerance for hate. “We reserve the right to immediately suspend or ban sellers who list items that promote, support, or glorify hate or violence. We will consider any items that celebrate last week’s attacks on the Capitol — or any future events that incite violence or threaten our democracy — as policy violations and deactivate shops as we deem appropriate,” he wrote.

Shopify (SHOP)
Shopify, which powers over 1 million small businesses and their e-commerce storefronts, has shut down stores selling Donald Trump merchandise.

“Shopify does not tolerate actions that incite violence. Based on recent events, we have determined that the actions by President Donald J. Trump violate our Acceptable Use Policy, which prohibits promotion or support of organizations, platforms or people that threaten or condone violence to further a cause. As a result, we have terminated stores affiliated with President Trump,” the company said in a statement to Recode.

Facebook (FB)
In the midst of the attack on the Capitol, Facebook appeared to take the lead in making immediate moves against content on the platform related to the riot. The company quickly took down Trump’s response video to the attacks, which he posted in the midst of the violence, because, while he called for the rioters to “go home,” he tacked on repeated lies about the 2020 election being stolen.

An hour after it was posted, Facebook determined the video, as Facebook VP of integrity Guy Rosen put it in a tweet at the time, “contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”

This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video. We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.

— Guy Rosen (@guyro) January 6, 2021

Later that day, Facebook announced that it was putting a 24-hour block on Trump’s account, stopping him from posting to either Facebook or Instagram. The next day, on Jan. 7, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a lengthy response to the Capitol attack, accusing Trump of using the platform to “incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”

The company then placed an indefinite hold on Trump’s accounts across Facebook and Instagram, with Zuckerberg saying the president wouldn’t be able to access the services until at least President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office on Jan. 20.

Rosen says the company is treating Inauguration Day as a major civic event, similar to the election, and is taking “additional steps to stop misinformation and content that could incite further violence.”

Part of that effort is removing content with the phrase “Stop the steal,” and is pausing all ads related to politics and elections on Facebook. The company is also automatically disabling comments on posts in groups that begin to show a high rate of hate speech or seek to incite violence, and will add a news digest to Facebook News to provide reliable information about the inauguration including a live stream of the event itself.

Twitter (TWTR)
Trump’s platform of choice, Twitter allowed the president to speak unfiltered to the world. But after Trump posted his video calling for supporters to go home, while continuing to push false claims about the integrity of the 2020 election, Twitter finally moved against him.

The company, like Facebook, removed Trump’s video as well as two other tweets for what it said were “repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity Policy.” Trump was then locked out of his account until he deleted the tweets, which he did, and then Twitter instituted a 12-hour ban afterwards.

After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 8, 2021

When the block was lifted, Trump posted a video that struck a more conciliatory tone. But after Twitter deemed two more tweets to be unacceptable, his favorite bullhorn was taken away permanently. Trump tried to get around the ban by tweeting from other accounts including the @POTUS profile, but was blocked at every turn.

In the days after the Capitol attack, Twitter deleted 70,000 accounts tied to the bizarre QAnon conspiracy, blocked the ability to search for volatile keywords, and stopped users from being able to like, retweet, or reply to tweets that violated the company’s Civic Integrity Policy. Users, however, can still quote those posts.

On Inauguration Day, Twitter will provide live streams of the event via multiple news agencies, and has announced its plans to hand off the @WhiteHouse, @POTUS, @VP, @FLOTUS, and @PressSec accounts to the Biden administration. It will also create a new @SecondGentleman account for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff.

Google (GOOG, GOOGL)
Like Facebook and Twitter, Google took action against the video Trump released during the Capitol attack by removing it from YouTube, the world’s most popular online video platform. Users were still able to use the piece, however, in their own videos if they added their own educational or news context.

But unlike Facebook or Twitter, Google didn’t ban Trump’s YouTube account until Jan. 12, and only for a minimum of seven days. Google said it made the decision due to “concerns about the ongoing potential for violence.”

After review, and in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to Donald J. Trump’s channel for violating our policies. It now has its 1st strike & is temporarily prevented from uploading new content for a *minimum* of 7 days.

— YouTubeInsider (@YouTubeInsider) January 13, 2021

The company also placed a strike on Trump’s account, which is where that seven-day ban comes in. A second strike would lead to a two-week ban, while a third strike would mean a permanent ban from the platform.

In the lead-up to the inauguration, Google announces that it is suspending political ads on its various platforms, as well as any ads that make reference to impeachment, inauguration, or the Capitol riots.

Snap (SNAP)
Snapchat will permanently ban Trump’s account on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

Along with its social media counterparts Facebook and Twitter, Snap first announced an indefinite suspension before becoming the first social media company to permanently boot his account off the platform.

In advance of the inauguration, Snap commissioned an internal taskforce that has been monitoring the platform for potential misuse. According to a company spokesperson, Snapchat is different from “traditional” social media platforms because it doesn’t feature an open newsfeed where unvetted content can gain virality. The company contends that because all of the content is ephemeral, the design and use case is for communication among friend groups.

While the Discover platform is a central hub for Gen Z to get informed, its content partners include Reuters, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, among others, so no rogue agents enter the newsfeed. Snap is proactively working with editorial teams on their coverage plans to ensure the content they’re promoting is accurate and fact checked.

Ahead of Inauguration, social media powerhouse TikTok issued a refreshed memo on its policies around safety and security. Over 100 million Americans are on the Chinese-owned app, which has become a political punching bag for the Trump administration.

According to the company, “violence, violent groups, and disinformation have no place on TikTok.” TikTok has never allowed paid political ads. “This means ads or sponsored creator content supporting or opposing a political leader or federal issue of public importance, including the presidential inauguration, would violate our advertising policies.”

The company removes content or accounts that “seek to incite, glorify, or promote violence or violent groups, hateful behavior, disinformation, and other violations” of its Community Guidelines. The company is also redirecting hashtags like #stormthecapitol #patriotparty #threepercenters #stopthesteal #QAnon back to its policy page. TikTok also works with PolitiFact and Lead Stories to fact-check emerging content.

Uber (UBER)
Ride-sharing giant Uber is also making plans for the inauguration with driver and rider safety in mind. In a statement a company spokesperson told Yahoo Finance, “Our teams are in regular contact with law enforcement and will be working to ensure drivers have the latest safety information as we head into the weekend and approach the inauguration.”

The firm said it won’t tolerate violent or illegal behavior and will ban any users that violate those policies.

In terms of on-the-ground logistics, Uber’s ride sharing and delivery services will continue to operate in the D.C. area. However, the firm is in contact with local law enforcement, the D.C. mayor’s office, and the Presidential Inauguration Committee, and is following any guidance from them.

The company will also be providing in-app alerts for drivers and delivery people related to unrest at state capitols along with the latest safety guidance from officials.