Democracy watchHow Can Corporate Leaders Do More to Defend Democracy?

By David J. Scheffer

Published 20 January 2021

In the wake of the assault on the U.S. Capitol, corporate leaders have taken a strong stand for democratic institutions. How does this fit into trends of corporate activism, and what comes next?

President Donald J. Trump’s provocation of the 6 January insurrection against the U.S. government led to a remarkable corporate reaction, with firms taking a strong stand against incitement to violence. But this should not be surprising. The exclusion of seditious disinformation from Trump and others, the chorus of corporate condemnations of his actions, and the suspensions of political contributions to his organizations exemplify how corporate leaders have taken an increasingly active role in public policy debates.

How Have Corporate Leaders Reacted to the Insurrection?
CEOs and other corporate officials have issued a cascade of reactions following the assault on the Capitol and as plans for further violence roil cyberspace prior to Inauguration Day. Many corporate executives and industry groups quickly criticized the insurrection and Trump’s incendiary role in it. 

In unprecedented moves, major corporations including Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Morgan Stanley are suspending or ending their political action committee contributions to members of Congress who voted against the Electoral College’s certification of the November election results. 

But much of the action happened online. Social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitch, and Twitter booted Trump, while YouTube suspended his account. Many Trump supporters have pursued alternate platforms as a game of shutdown whack-a-mole has ensued. Amazon Web Services, the largest hosting service in the market, quickly suspended Parler, the social network popular among conservatives and extremists. Apple’s and Google’s app stores likewise dropped Parler.

Also significant is payment-processing companies denying Trump access to his political and commercial enterprises. Stripe announced that it will no longer process payments for Trump’s campaign website. Shopify and PayPal shut down Trump-associated accounts, including those of some Trump followers who were transferring funds to support the Capitol Hill violence. GoFundMe banned some travel fundraisers ahead of the threatened armed protests leading to Inauguration Day and in the future will “remove fundraisers that attempt to spread misinformation about the election, promote conspiracy theories, and contribute to or participate in attacks on U.S. democracy.”

Can Social Media Platforms and Other Tech Companies Do This?
Yes—though social media companies have previously tried to avoid such high-profile actions. A short clause in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230, prevents internet service providers and platforms from being held liable for what their users post.

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