Like going bankrupt, there are two ways to lose an election: gradually and then suddenly.
For Donald Trump, the suddenly part won't happen until November, but the gradually bit is well in motion.
(Yes, I'm making the bold claim that Trump will lose this election. It's a very stupid thing to write because it's so obvious that no-one will give me credit if I'm correct, but still so rarely said out loud that I'll look like an idiot if I'm wrong, which I won't be, because he will lose this election.)
His polls are awful and getting worse, his Covid infection appears to have prompted little sympathy, a lot of schadenfreude, and renewed memories of his administrations awful handling of the pandemic, and he just turned down a gift-wrapped offer from the Democratic Party to boost the economy a month before the election out of… spite? I guess?
I don't want to break, too thoroughly, my rule that the world is better the less attention people who aren't in the USA pay to it, but there is one effect of the gradual understanding that he is not going to be president in three months time that is definitely in my wheelhouse: Facebook is turning on him.
Late last night, the company delivered a one-two punch to Trump, removing a post of his in which he declared, falsely, that Covid was "in many cases" less dangerous than the flu, and banning outright the Qanon movement, even in its supposedly non-violent forms.
There are stated reasons for this burst of action. Trump's post breached the company's rules around Covid misinformation, which it has, generally, been enforcing somewhat more equitably than equivalent rules around hate speech. And Qanon, which had already seen action taken against explicitly revolutionary forms, continues to be a fundamentally dangerous ideology which, when accurately described, has no place on Facebook's own platform under its own rules.
Yet the timing is impossible to ignore. Facebook is a company which has bent over backwards to stay on the right side of the American Republican Party for the past four years, to the chagrin of its employees, and without really receiving much reciprocal love from the US Right itself, which continues to falsely claim that it is uniquely censored on social media.
It's also led to the social network being completely out of sync with the rest of the world: if you position yourself as centrist in the nation with one of the most extreme ruling parties in the developed world, you position yourself as wildly out of touch in the rest of the world. In order to stay on the right side of the ruling regime in America, Facebook has needed to invent itself as a social network which sees no problem with handing fact checking responsibilities to a site such as the Daily Caller, and which thinks it is problematic if a list of respectable media outlets includes the New York Times but not Breitbart News.
I think Mark Zuckerberg made a calculated gamble, that staying on the right side of the Republican Party would protect Facebook from suffering at the hands of regulation it did not want. And I think the company is now starting to make a similar calculation: that it needs to begin severing those links.
But I wonder if they will be as easy to split as Facebook thinks. The company can quietly usher out the door Joel Kaplan, the Bush-admin advisor who joined Facebook in 2011 to manage its ties with Republicans and has run global policy since 2016. It can begin taking action against the far-right commentators who break its rules daily but get a pass because of their popularity with the President. But it can't change the fact that, after years of acting this way, the Facebook active user base is a self-selecting group of people who saw no problem with this, or who had their views changed by the material they were exposed by.
Facebook, particularly in the US, is an emergent right-wing media outlet. The company didn't decide to be that, but the rules and regulations it has put in place have slowly turned it into the internet-era Fox News, and it has the user base to match. The company can cut ties, with Trump, but ending this will be a harder change to effect.
I wrote a few months ago about my fear of being banned from one of the three or four online services that rule the world. Not banned for posting prohibited content, to be clear: banned because one of their weird anti-spam or anti-fraud algorithms wrongly flagged me as malicious and just… banned me, with no recourse, no appeal and no explanation. Amazon does this all the time, most famously if you return too many items; Apple does it to developers who it decides have broken a rule it won’t tell them about; PayPal just locks up access to your money, seemingly at random.
Anyway here’s another story about someone permanently losing their Instagram account – maybe to an insider attack? Maybe to a hacker? – and here’s one about someone losing all their kindle books for no obvious reason.
I think one reason I find these stories so interesting is they’re a very good example of a way we’ve collectively allowed tech companies to get away with behaviour that simply wouldn’t be acceptable offline. If Tesco unilaterally banned someone from all their shops nationwide, didn’t tell them why, and also froze the money they had in their Tesco Money account, it’d be big news. When PayPal does it, it’s Wednesday.
You may have noticed that there was no email last week. That was partially because last week was fairly intense, and partially because after six months of waves arms all this, my brain has turned to mush. In fact, I just opened my draft from last Tuesday and that's literally all it says: "six months of waves arms all this, my brain has turned to mush".
I'm sure I'm not alone, and I'm not really sure it's going to get better any time soon. Still, chin up, there's some good video games coming out.