June 2, 2020

For better or worse, social media makes it impossible to look away

Social platforms are central to the booming protest movement. CEOs who lead them are feeling the heat.

(Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

The demonstrations over George Floyd’s death that have wracked American cities for the last week echo major protest movements of the past. But thanks to social media, the unrest carries a uniquely 21st-century feel: Information — and misinformation — is moving faster than ever.

It’s the megaphone of a movement

About 7 out of 10 Americans use social media. Without platforms like Facebook and Twitter to amplify the story, Floyd’s arrest may have been reduced to a police report, instead of being captured in video clips that set the country ablaze.

Protesters and the police are using social platforms to monitor one another during tense face-offs, according to The Wall Street Journal. Each night, images of burning buildings and tear-gassed protesters flood our timelines.

But the real-time flow of information can be a double-edged sword. On Sunday, a Twitter account with just 3 followers amplified misinformation about the unrest in Washington, DC, prompting false accounts of a #DCblackout to trend nationwide.

Social CEOs are feeling the heat

Under attack from President Trump, the internet’s social giants are responding in different ways — with Twitter and Facebook on opposite ends of the seesaw.

Last week, Twitter slapped a warning label on a Trump tweet saying that looting leads to shooting. Facebook let the post stand — and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is now at the center of a revolt by his own staff. 

In a post on Sunday night, Zuckerberg said the company was donating $10m to groups focused on racial justice. 

On Monday, Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout to protest their boss’s decision not to take a stronger stand against Trump’s posts. 

Oren Frank, CEO of the online therapy company Talkspace, said his business was ending its partnership with Facebook. “We will not support a platform that incites violence, racism, and lies,” he tweeted.

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