Are Trump's tweets trustworthy

Are social media measures enough to counter Trump's unrest?

On January 6, 2021, supporters of Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol. The riots were fueled by Trump himself on social media, among others. The social media responded: Twitter blocked Trump's account for twelve hours and caused Trump to delete three tweets. In the event of future violations, his account should be permanently blocked [I]. Facebook and Instagram have initially blocked Trump's accounts for 24 hours and removed a video [II]. Later, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the President's accounts would remain blocked for at least two weeks [III] - until the end of his term in office. YouTube also blocked the Trump video and Snapchat also temporarily blocked its account.

The unrest is a symptom of the tense political situation in the USA, which has long been fueled by posts on social media. The current escalation and the stronger intervention of the platforms could now decide how social media will handle such situations in the future - and whether there are calls in politics to regulate social media in such a way that such situations do not arise in the first place.



  • Prof. Dr. Klaus Kamps, Professor of Communication Science, Stuttgart Media University

  • Prof. Dr. Nicole Krämer, Head of the Department of Social Psychology: Media and Communication, University of Duisburg-Essen

  • Prof. a.Z. Dr. Lena Frischlich, Substitute Professor for Media Change, Institute for Communication Studies and Media Research, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich

  • Prof. Dr. Hannah Schmid-Petri, Professor of Science Communication, University of Passau

  • Prof. Dr. Tobias Gostomzyk, Professor of Media Law, Technical University of Dortmund


Prof. Dr. Klaus Kamps

Professor of Communication Science, Stuttgart Media University

“Also from the reactions yesterday (media as well as political) it is clear how 'deep' the events yesterday went to the United States of America. Under such conditions of a 'defining moment', very far-reaching and fundamental things are conceivable - at least at the moment it seems that a threshold has been crossed here in the eyes of the US public; and that means a lot after four years of Trump's presidency. It's not an isolated event either, and we can expect this or that surprise at least until January 20th - in Washington and one or the other State Capitol. Even if platform policy is not central: In any case, things stand for at least one broad debate, including about the role of social media and how it deals with misinformation and disinformation, lies and agitation. "

In response to the question of the extent to which it is currently being decided where the limits lie in the instrumentalization of social media by political actors:
“As I said, it already has the impression that new paths are being explored; recently, Mark Zuckerberg announced some sort of 'extension' of Trump's expulsion. That can still be a symbolic act, but it is at least a break - compared to the previously strict attitude that only “flagging” knew. In my opinion, it depends above all on how the public discussion develops in the coming weeks - because reactions in the sense of fundamental changes to the platform rules can only be expected if the companies are exposed to boycott pressure, for example (from users and advertisers). Secondly, but only the next few months will tell, the government could reconsider Biden Section 230 - that is the paragraph that absolves these platforms from responsibility for this content. But that would really be a very fundamental change in policy in the USA; I don't see that on the agenda at the moment. "

When asked about the role of social media in the current conflicts in the USA:
“We're talking about millions of Americans who are deeply convinced of various falsehoods, including nasty conspiracy theories. There are many reasons for this, and some of them are sure to be found on social media too. We know the model of the filter bubble - which, however, cannot be empirically determined in terms of breadth. However: it already applies to politically more extreme groups. What seems most important to me here: Social media are usually only part of a plural media repertoire, and in such a discussion the entire right-wing conservative media system should be taken into account, for example the so-called MAGA media such as Fox News or One America News. "

“The current social media measures are necessary and, moreover, certainly have a symbolic content. They are certainly not sufficient enough in the sense that alternatives will always open up. When Twitter blocks a video, Trump goes in front of the 'normal' cameras and so on. In addition, measures against conspiracy theories, for example, must be considered - that is already being done, but this requires an ethics of responsibility that companies have only shown sporadically so far. The fact that the platforms have to take more responsibility for the content they publish is definitely a given European position. At least two things stand in the way of this: first, the enormous importance that the first amendment to the constitution and thus freedom of expression are accorded in the USA; Traditionally, this freedom is far less restricted there, for example by insulting paragraphs, than in this country. Second, the repeal of Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act. This repeal would probably hit the core of the business models. US policy will probably not go this way; rather, it should be about the elaboration of clear criteria as to which content is specifically to be blocked. "

Prof. Dr. Nicole Kramer

Head of the Department of Social Psychology: Media and Communication, University of Duisburg-Essen

In response to the question of the extent to which it is currently being decided where the limits lie in the instrumentalization of social media by political actors:
“From a psychological point of view, there is little to say about this. At most, one can say that other political actors learn from the example that not all behavior will be tolerated. This may lead to a decision to stick to the rules more closely. It is more likely that there will be a migration to other services (for example Telegram), as can already be observed. "

When asked about the role of social media in the current conflicts in the USA:
“Empirical research shows that news on social media actually plays a role in shaping opinion. Especially when the news is already going in the direction of one's own opinion, it becomes in the sense of the 'confirmation bias' effect (the psychological effect that people tend to select and interpret information in such a way that it corresponds to their own opinion; Editor's note) gratefully accepted and integrated into your own opinion. In addition, in the sense of the empirically well-proven false information effect (the phenomenon that memories of an event can be influenced in retrospect by incorrect information; editor's note), incorrect information received can hardly be corrected afterwards through a correction. Often they are integrated into existing knowledge, plausibly inserted into previous knowledge and are therefore - even if one believes that the corrected message is correct - remembered more lastingly than the really correct message. "

“The much-cited filter bubbles can also play a role. Although empirical studies show that the normal population is not likely to be affected by filter bubbles and is more likely to be confronted with a high diversity of opinion on the Internet, groups of people with already strong minority opinions in particular can polarize themselves further through mutual reinforcement in a closed virtual space. "

When asked how the measures of the various social media against Donald Trump and his accounts are to be assessed and to what extent the platforms should take on more responsibility:
“Given that research can show that news on social media can influence people's opinions and attitudes, it makes sense to block accounts or delete messages when (false) news is spread that the Jeopardize democracy. The measures are sufficient to cut off the main communicator of the fake news, President Trump, from direct communication. However, supporters in the filter bubble that has been created over the years will of course continue to spread conspiracy theories, so that the measure will probably only have partial success. Of course, the measures are by no means timely, as lies and fake news have been spread for years and the trust in institutions has been systematically undermined by fake news - at least among an increasingly polarized minority. The protection normally expected from counter-speech and corresponding arguments - because research also shows that critical comments can certainly lead to adjustments in attitudes - cannot have any effect because the 'partisans' are already so polarized that counter-arguments from the other side no longer apply can have an effect, but are perceived in a distorted manner. "

“Against the background of the psychological effects of (politically motivated) misinformation on social media, it is generally desirable that the major platforms begin to understand that they should not only see themselves as a 'vessel' or a means of transport for news, but rather like journalists Have to perform the gatekeeping function. "

Prof. a.Z. Dr. Lena Frischlich

Substitute professor for media change, Institute for Communication Studies and Media Research, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich

In response to the question of the extent to which it is currently being decided where the limits lie in the instrumentalization of social media by political actors:
“The positioning of the major platforms already changed during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example the central positioning of content on COVID-19 rated as trustworthy or the handling of Holocaust denial and QAnon. Trump has also faced headwinds at one point or another. "

“The legal framework and economic interests certainly play a role in these changes. But one thing is clear: 2020 was a different environment than around 2016 - the current regulations were implemented more strongly. "

When asked about the role of social media in the current conflicts in the USA:
“Social media have become a natural part of the (digital) living environment. In the last year in particular, many people networked with one another, exchanged ideas or informed themselves about world events during their restricted mobility. "

“First of all, social media offer spaces of opportunity - for democratic protest, political participation, and contact with like-minded people. At the same time, the same structures can of course also be used for anti-democratic activities such as the coordination of violent actions. When people in extreme positions use YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, they first do what everyone else does. The technical structures enable all users to post content on the Internet without editorial control and to distribute it in a matter of seconds, even across city and country borders. In the USA in particular, one should not underestimate the interaction with larger networks with high-reach channels - such as Fox News. The US researchers Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts also speak of network propaganda [1]. "

"In a research review on the role of the Internet in violent radicalization processes, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Nick Kaderbhai came to the conclusion in 2016 that the Internet alone is not a cause of radicalization, but can facilitate and catalyze individual development paths towards political violence [2] . "

When asked how the measures of the various social media against Donald Trump and his accounts are to be assessed and to what extent the platforms should take on more responsibility:
“Harvard professor Susann Benesch, who has long been concerned with 'dangerous speech' in the run-up to violent conflict - for example in the context of genocide - describes the most dangerous - i.e. the most likely violent - case as a situation in which a powerful, influential one Person exploits the fear and bitterness of the audience via a wide-reaching media channel in order to advocate or legitimize violence - for example as a defense [3, 4]. Especially when conflict-ridden relationships between social groups already exist, violence can escalate. And there are probably few more powerful people than the President of the USA - and also not many Western democracies that are as polarized and divided as the USA. "

"The community standards of all major platforms prohibit content that encourages acts of violence - so it is only logical that this also applies to high-reach, powerful people."

"If you think of Germany now, the right to freedom of expression according to the Basic Law clearly has its limits where general laws are violated, where protection and personal honor are violated - and freedom of expression is also not the right to reach."

“At the same time, blocks and deletions can only be the last resort. In the long term, it is necessary to be able to deal critically with information and to grapple with the reasons that make people susceptible to calls for violence. Social media and digital spaces are emerging quickly - those who are banned from Facebook may look to more radical small platforms. Accordingly, it is difficult to grasp 'the Internet' in all its diversity - in the end it is about people and how we want and can behave. On the net and beyond. "

Prof. Dr. Hannah Schmid-Petri

Professor of Science Communication, University of Passau

“The developments that have now reached their sad climax in the storm on the Capitol have been evident for a long time. In my opinion, they are rooted in more profound social changes, such as the growing influence of populist actors in politics, the related increasing polarization of US society and an incumbent president who evades factual discussions, spreads disinformation and insults political opponents. "

“The numerous communication processes that take place on social media contribute in various ways to the dynamics of such radicalization - but only for people who are already susceptible to populist slogans. The far larger number of citizens use social media for a democratic and constructive discourse. "

“Social media enable political actors to communicate directly with supporters. Trump used this very successfully for his own purposes. In this way, he manages to reach and mobilize his supporters directly with his messages. This effect is reinforced if the algorithmic curation of the social networks ensures that his posts or tweets receive a high level of attention and / or if journalistic media pick them up and thus make them accessible to a larger audience. In addition, it avoids the quality assurance processes of journalistic work, which would identify false reports or disinformation campaigns as such and classify them accordingly. "

“Political groups that either do not have institutionalized access to political power - such as social movements - or are on the fringes of the political spectrum, are often characterized by their small size and wide dispersion in terms of area. Digital media now make it possible for them to network and exchange ideas with like-minded people comparatively easily online. This applies both in a positive sense to political groups with democratic goals - such as in the context of the Arab Spring - as well as to actors who represent political extremes and abuse the networking opportunities for their own purposes. In addition, protests of any kind can be organized and coordinated much more easily via social media. "

“The exchange and networking in digital communities, forums or groups contribute to the development of a sense of community, the formulation of common goals and thus the formation of a shared group identity. Because pictures and films of the common protest can be shared in these groups after an action has taken place, this is maintained, further strengthened and communicated to the outside world. This probably applies in particular to (political) outsider actors who feel that they are 'finally' understood in the group and are among like-minded people. "

“Because digital media and, above all, social networks enable billions of times to communicate, the public discourse is becoming more heterogeneous and diverse - for better or for worse. As a result, digital media put our understanding of freedom of expression under stress; They also enable a lot of communication processes that run counter to our ideas of a constructive social dialogue. However, if we want to uphold the principle of freedom of expression, we must not be blinded by it. Of course, every expression of opinion has its legal limits and of course content that violates these should be punished quickly and sustainably. Blocking Trump's account does not solve the fundamental and actually causal problem - namely that we are dealing with an influential politician who does not shy away from spreading false news and openly supporting violent demonstrators. "

“Overall, social media are not proving to be the cause of political evil, but they are very powerful platforms for communication and group formation that people use for both enjoyable and dangerous purposes. What people say on social media should be protected by freedom of expression, as should table discussions and public speaking. But the same legal barriers to freedom of expression should also apply. "

Prof. Dr. Tobias Gostomzyk

Professor of Media Law, Technical University of Dortmund

“The current discussion points to a conflict that has been simmering for a long time: The core issue is to what extent the private operators of the large platforms are allowed to shape public communication - and of course what responsibility they have here. There is a tension here. Because on the one hand Facebook, Twitter and Co. are privately-owned companies, on the other hand the platforms they operate are highly relevant for individual and public opinion-forming or even - see storming the Capitol in Washington - public order. The large, market-dominating platforms can therefore be understood as socially relevant information and communication infrastructures. "

When asked how the current conflict is to be assessed from a legal perspective:
“Ultimately, the question is to what extent Facebook, Twitter and Co. as private companies have room for maneuver in the design and operation of their platforms - and also where the limits are. This applies, for example, if more posts are deleted due to community standards than would be covered by freedom of expression. For example, Facebook users should not be allowed to say, 'I hate you!' Or to call someone a 'freak' or 'coward'. The problem: literally hating someone is just as unlawful as loving someone. To date, there is no supreme court ruling on this in Germany. "

“On the other hand, the courts of instance decide differently: some courts represent, the large platforms are subject to fundamental rights similar to the state. Because the power of Facebook or Twitter, for example, is comparable to that of the state - even if they are private companies. It follows from this that only community standards covered by freedom of expression may be enforced. Other courts, on the other hand, allow more leeway: it may sometimes also be deleted if posts covered by freedom of expression violate community standards. This can be the case, for example, if they have negative effects on the communication culture of social networks due to strong polarization. However, according to established case law, particular restraint is required when deleting posts if they deal with a topic of public interest. "

In response to the question on what legal basis social media can take measures against false allegations and statements that may lead to violence:
“A distinction must be made here: On the one hand, there are legal regulations, such as the Network Enforcement Act in Germany or, as a European standard, the Digital Services Act in future. On the other hand - as described - there are the community standards of the networks themselves. "

When asked how the measures of the various social media against Donald Trump and his accounts are to be assessed and to what extent the platforms should take on more responsibility:
“This raises the question of the extent to which state communication should be conveyed via social networks - and which rules should apply for this. A distinction must be made between the fact that Donald Trump posts once as a private person, but also as President of the United States of America; so in a public function. With regard to the public function in particular, it could be argued that the state can also use platform-related communication channels. However, strict legal standards must be adhered to. State communication would have to be transparent, objective and neutral, according to German case law. This is of course something very different from political instrumentalization or even sympathizing with violent actions such as storming the Capitol. "

Information on possible conflicts of interest

Prof. Dr. Nicole Krämer: "I have no conflicts of interest."

Prof. Dr. Tobias Gostomzyk: "No conflicts of interest."

All other: No information received.

References cited by the experts

[1] Benkler Y et al. (2018): Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics. DOI: 10.1093 / oso / 9780190923624.001.0001.

[2] Meleagrou-Hitchens A et al. (2017): Research Perspectives on Online Radicalization, a Literature Review, 2006-2016. Vox Pol.

[3] Benesch S (2012): Dangerous Speech: A Proposal to Prevent Group Violence.

[4] Leader Maynard J et al. (2016): Dangerous Speech and Dangerous Ideology: An Integrated Model for Monitoring and Prevention. Genocide Studies and Prevention; 9 (3): 70-95. DOI: 10.5038 / 1911-9933.9.3.1317.

References cited by the SMC

[I] TwitterSafety on Twitter (January 7th, 2021).

[II] Rosen G (January 6th, 2021): Our Response to the Violence in Washington. Facebook newsroom.

[III] Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook (January 7th, 2021).