Clickbait extremism, mass shootings, and the assault on democracy – time for a rethink of social media?

Social media companies have done well out of the United States congressional hearings on the January 6 insurrection. They profited from livestreamed video as rioters stormed the Capitol Building. They profited from the incendiary brew of misinformation that incited thousands to travel to Washington D.C. for the “Save America” rally. They continue to profit from its aftermath. Clickbait extremism has been good for business.

In the weeks after the 2019 Christchurch massacre, there were hopeful signs that nations – individually and collectively – were prepared to better regulate the internet.

Social media companies had fought hard against accepting responsibility for their content, citing arguments that reflected the libertarian philosophies of internet pioneers. In the name of freedom, they argued, long established rules and behavioural norms should be set aside. Their success in influencing law makers has enabled companies to avoid legal penalty, even when their platforms are used to motivate, plan, execute and livestream violent attacks.

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