In the wake of the storming of the US capitol on 6 January, we saw unprecedented responses by tech companies to regulate and control the extremist content on their platforms. This reached its peak with the suspension of Donald Trump, who was still the sitting US president, from numerous social media platforms. Trump supporters, angered by his deplatforming, flocked to alternative social media sites, including Parler, given its claims to respect “free speech”. Shortly thereafter, citing the app’s violations of terms of service, Apple and Google removed the Parler app from their stores and Amazon terminated its webhosting contract, taking Parler fully offline. While many praised the actions of the tech companies in countering support for extremism online, others, including the tech companies themselves, raised questions about the implications of these actions with regards to free speech and the global power and potential overreach of tech companies.
Challenges associated with deplatforming and content moderation are nothing new, and tech companies have grappled with these issues since their inception. However, following the rapid rise of Islamic State (IS) early in the last decade, and their expert exploitation of social media to disseminate their propaganda, tech companies’ roles in regulating extremist content have come under greater scrutiny. Governments and tech companies have struggled to find a balance between removing extremist content whilst protecting freedom of speech.