Big Tech Backslide

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After the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, tech companies finally seemed to accept that their failure to moderate content was undermining public safety and democracy. In the aftermath, most social-media companies removed users who spread anti-democratic conspiracies or used their online platforms to incite violence. Leading up to the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, tech companies promised users, civil-society groups and governments that they would safeguard election integrity and free expression on their platforms. In 2022, Free Press graded the four major platforms’ policies against 15 recommendations we helped develop that are designed to curb the spread of election disinformation and extremism. Our research found that although tech companies have long promised to fight disinformation and hate, there is a notable gap between what the companies say they want to do and what they actually do in practice. We found that in 2023, the largest social-media companies have deprioritized content moderation and other user trust and safety protections, including rolling back platform policies that had reduced the presence of hate, harassment and lies on their networks. These companies have also laid off critical staff and teams tasked with maintaining platform integrity. Taken together with the preferential treatment of VIP users — reflected in the reinstatement of Donald Trump’s accounts on Meta, Twitter and YouTube — these developments represent a dangerous backslide. In turn, this has created a toxic online environment that is vulnerable to exploitation from anti-democracy forces, white supremacists and other bad actors.