The narrative that the January 6 storming of the US Capitol was organized on social media contributed to the shutdown of alternative tech app Parler, led to mass social media censorship, and was even used by some Big Tech platforms to justify the permanent suspension of President Trump.
But now, the FBI is disputing this narrative, with multiple current and former law enforcement officials telling Reuters there is scant evidence that the events of January 6 were the result of an organized plot and no evidence that Trump was involved in organizing the storming of the Capitol.
Four current and former law enforcement officials, who have been either directly involved or regularly briefed on the FBI’s investigations into the storming of the Capitol, told Reuters that “the FBI at this point believes the violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump.”
One of the sources added that “ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases” and that the remaining five percent “were more closely organized” but “there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”
Additionally, the sources said that the FBI “has so far found no evidence” that Trump or people directly around him were involved in organizing the violence.
These revelations from law enforcement sources directly dispute the January 6 narrative that has been pushed by numerous media outlets which, in the immediate aftermath of the storming of the Capitol, blamed social media and Trump supporters for the events at the US Capitol.
In a January 6 article titled “The storming of Capitol Hill was organized on social media,” The New York Times claimed that groups that had been “bolstered by Mr. Trump” had “openly organized on social media networks and recruited others to their cause.”
The article also directly connected this alleged months-long organization on social media to the storming of the Capitol by stating “their online activism became real-world violence, leading to unprecedented scenes of mobs freely strolling through the halls of Congress and uploading celebratory photographs of themselves, encouraging others to join them.”
Not only did these media articles allege that the storming of the Capitol was organized on social media but many also suggested that alt-tech sites such as Gab, Parler, and Telegram were to blame.
The New York Times piece claimed that both Gab and Parler were being “used by the far-right” to share “directions on which streets to take to avoid the police and which tools to bring to help pry open doors.”
And BuzzFeed wrote:
“On pro-Trump social media website Parler, chat app Telegram, and other corners of the the far-right internet, people discussed the Capitol Hill rally at which Trump spoke as the catalyst for a violent insurrection. They have been using those forums to plan an uprising in plain sight, one that they executed Wednesday afternoon, forcing Congress to flee its chambers as it met to certify the results of the election.”
This media narrative, which is now being disputed by the FBI, triggered a wave of online censorship after January 6.
President Trump was banned from all of the major social media platforms days after January 6. Big Tech justified the bans by referencing the events at the Capitol and suggesting that Trump was inciting violence.
Twitter even pushed similar talking points to those being pushed by the media and claimed that “plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021” were one of the factors that led to it banning Trump.
And Parler was booted from Apple and Google’s app stores and Amazon’s web hosting services within days of the Capitol riot. Apple even echoed the media’s assertion that Parler was being “used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021” in its threat to ban the alt-tech platform from the App Store.
Other examples of post-January 6 Big Tech censorship include Facebook banning photos and videos from protestors at the US Capitol and YouTube disabling live chats on some streams discussing protests at the Capitol.
As this media narrative that the storming of the Capitol was organized on social media starts to fall apart, those who were impacted by the subsequent censorship are still feeling its impact.
President Trump is still blacklisted from all of the Big Tech platforms and has lost his ability to reach the millions of followers he had accumulated on these platforms, even after these law enforcement sources said the FBI has found no evidence that Trump or his prominent supporters had anything to do with coordinating or organizing the events of January 6.
And since it was deplatformed by Apple, Google, and Amazon in January, Parler has lost more than 95% of its traffic. According to web analytics service SimilarWeb, Parler’s traffic declined from a peak of over 40 million visits in January to 1.93 million visits in July.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media outlets that pushed this narrative are still given preferential treatment by Big Tech through algorithms that boost their reach by up to 20x.
This phenomenon of mainstream media outlets pushing a narrative that leads to mass censorship, only for the narrative to crumble months later isn’t limited to January 6.
Countless social media users were censored for suggesting the possibility of the coronavirus leaking from the infamous Wuhan lab until the media reversed course and reported that this could in fact be a possibility. Facebook then changed its rules to allow discussions of the lab leak theory but most of those who were censored before the media reversed course still haven’t had their accounts or posts reinstated.
Yet the media outlets that previously claimed the lab leak theory was a “conspiracy” and then reversed course, haven’t faced any sanctions and get to maintain their status as “authoritative sources” that are boosted by Big Tech’s algorithms.