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The whitewash of the culpable

I'm still processing the events of this week: the obvious buffoonery of the Q mob contrasts starkly with reports of an intention to hang the Vice President, cable ties brought into the Capitol to detain hostages, and the obvious white supremacist flags that were flown both inside and out. One popular T-shirt worn on Wednesday read "Camp Auschwitz: work brings freedom"; another read 6MWE, for "6 Million [Jews] Wasn't Enough".

This riot was unmistakably instigated by President Trump at an address immediately prior, and who later told the insurrectionists: "We love you. You're very special. Go home" (an echo of his infamous call for the Proud Boys to "stand by and stand down", and declaring that a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville had "very fine people on both sides"). Since then, we've seen a number of resignations from inside his government, which at this late stage could be seen as just taking an extra week's vacation.Twitter forced him to take down some posts, and Facebook banned him indefinitely. Apple is about to ban the right-wing app Parler unless it adds a moderation policy within 24 hours.

It's too little, far too late. It's not brave to quit an administration after spending four years inside it perpetuating hate (particularly when it might just be a way to avoid having to vote on invoking the 25th Amendment). It's not brave to ban a fascist government leader from your media platform following a high-profile event after allowing him to incite hatred for at least as long. It's not taking a stand to suddenly ban an app heavily used by white supremacists when it's been used to organize hate groups for its entire existence. All of these things should be done, but they should have been done long ago.

I don't believe it's fair to assume that all of these technology companies only just realized that these organizations were dangerous. Instead, I think it's just that it became untenable to tolerate them. The thing about hate groups and hate-filled conspiracy theories like QAnon is that they're very highly engaged: they use platforms for hours and they click on ads. Then-CEO of CBS Les Moonves famously said about Trump before the 2016 election: "it may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS". The same is true for every tech company that subsists on ad engagement dollars. Not only did targeted advertising help Trump win in 2016, but every targeted ad platform and every advertising-powered TV network profited from the hatred and division that Trump incited. Just this week, the former CEO of ad-tech firm Steelhouse called the Capitol insurrection "a rocket ship" for Twitter and Facebook's ad businesses. They were going to hang the Vice President! Such engagement!

So, yes: leave the Trump administration, by all means. Ban him from your platforms. Remove the apps that insurrectionists used to organize the storming of the Capitol (and are reportedly using to organize another event around the inauguration). But you don't win brownie points for that. You don't get to walk away with your head held high. You put your own profit over the health of the country, the health of the people who have died as a direct result of the Trump administration's policies, and the cause of global democracy. You shouldn't get to sleep soundly at night. You're culpable. And as much as you might try and wash your hands of it in the final weeks of this nightmare, you deserve to have it follow you for the rest of your lives.