Social Media Companies Have a Tremendous Amount of Power to Wield, Academic Says

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Facebook has recently announced a ban on groups and pages identified with the rapidly growing QAnon conspiracy movement. Shane Satterley from Griffith University discussed with us whether social media platforms can suppress extremist groups.

Sputnik: Do you think social media can suppress groups like QAnon?

Shane Satterley: There is some evidence that they've got, obviously a tremendous amount of power to do so if they wish to wield it. And there is some evidence that they've been successful. Back in 2015, Twitter, and then Facebook took to great lengths to start removing Daesh* propaganda videos, and things of that nature from their platforms.

And the danger with doing this sometimes is that you can create a black market for ideas of this sort, you know, it goes underground, and then they can sort of fester, then they sort of go unchecked, because they go into a rabbit hole, into a more enclosed bubble.

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However, when they banned the Daesh propaganda, they didn't seem to see a lot of it pop up elsewhere. They didn't eradicate it, obviously. But it wasn't seen as much. Now, obviously, Daesh is a little bit different than QAnon, Daesh is obviously a lot more violent. And some QAnon sort of, I don't know whether you call them recruits, but some QAnon sort of ideologically adjacent people have run into a little bit of trouble with some violence, but it doesn't. It's probably a little bit too early to tell whether it's really ideologically inspired or not.

Sputnik: How effective is it to ban groups like this on Facebook?

Shane Satterley: Similar to what I was just saying it can be very effective. But the question is, sort of should they be doing it? Because obviously, they can. But then when we're sort of ceding our sort of liberties there to Facebook and Twitter and any other of the big, like Google and stuff like that, to tell us what we can read, tell us what we can listen to. And obviously, everyone has the right to express themselves in a free country. But have the legal right, I should say to do so.

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But when the main avenues are sort of taken down, we know avenues where elected representatives are talking, big corporations are talking and it's just what you know, it's the town square, so to speak, in the modern age. Banning groups and ideas is very antithetical to what we would call a liberal democracy.

Sputnik: How can platforms like Facebook promote critical thinking?

Shane Satterley: That's the million dollar question. Critical thinking is, somewhat easily defined, but very hard to test for to know if it's even working. The research that we have on critical thinking tends to show that if you can boost critical thinking in one domain, it doesn't necessarily translate to other domains.

Even if Facebook were to have some sort of online educational sort of outreach programme or something, to try to mitigate some of the more conspiratorial sort of nonsense that's floating around. It's hard to know how effective it would be. But what I said in the article is that with the amount of resources that Facebook have, and the algorithms and machine learning that they have, I'm sure if anyone the big tech companies could do something if they really wanted to.

*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) is a terrorist group banned in Russia. 

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