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Attack on US Capitol highlights social media’s role in planning illegal activity

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As tech companies take action to stop political threats and violence generated online, the role of social media in perpetuating politically-motivated violence is highlighted.

Apple and Google have both removed the Parler app from app stores this weekend, saying it's a home to violent threats and calls for illegal activity. Apple said it warned Parler, but didn't see an adequate response.

Meanwhile, Amazon is also suspending the app from its web hosting service, which means Parler will go offline until it finds a new service. The social media network had become popular among conservatives, as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook.

President Trump is now banned from Twitter for life because of his tweets surrounding the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Facebook, Instagram, Twitch and Snapchat also all suspended his accounts, at least temporarily.

Many conservatives have questioned the ban, but political science experts say the move isn't illegal.

"Some people are talking about this as a freedom of speech issue, a First Amendment issue. It really isn't. The First Amendment is to prevent the government from censoring our speech. It doesn't say anything about private companies," said UW-Madison political science professor David Canon.

All this has put a spotlight on the role social media has played in helping people organize, plan and execute illegal activity.

Experts say even though social media has been around for more than a decade, laws and regulations have not kept up with how it's used.

"Going all the way back to the printing press on up, there's been a lag time of the technology being invented and then rules put in place on how that technology is used. We haven't had that with social media, so the idea of what types of restrictions can you put on, how do you put on restrictions if you can, who owns the bandwidth that's being used, is something that we're in the process literally of figuring out right now," said Don Stanley.

Stanley is a faculty associate in UW-Madison's Life Sciences Communications department, teaching courses on social media.

Stanley said as he monitored what was going on at the Capitol, he saw some of the people involved in the attack had used social media to coordinate things like which entrances to the Capitol had the least police at certain times.

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