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Welcome to the Tech Labs Report from Zignal Labs, your latest dive into the issues currently driving conversations in tech. For today’s report, we’re using media intelligence to analyze the tech industry’s response to the recent unrest at the US Capitol, in which rioters, driven in part by false and misleading narratives about fraud in the 2020 Election, sought to disrupt the counting of electoral votes.

Keep reading as we tackle questions like:

  1. What’s dominating the tech conversation in the wake of the January 6 unrest?
  2. What do companies’ responses say about the nature of narrative-borne risk?
  3. What can companies do to help prevent recurrences of events like these?

Be sure to catch our Virtual Town Hall to learn how to protect your brand from narrative-borne risk.

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All Eyes on Big Tech

The unrest at the US Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, sent shock waves throughout digital and social media. But by the end of that week, another topic had sprung to the forefront of the conversation: the swift and decisive moves some large tech companies made in response to the event. Donald Trump was blocked from major social media platforms; Shopify and major app marketplaces dropped Parler, a site that had become a major online forum for right-wing conservatives. 

Using Zignal media intelligence, we analyzed the conversation using a sample of Big Tech companies – specifically: Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Many of these companies had already seen surges in mentions several weeks earlier, possibly in response to the antitrust lawsuit against Facebook shining a light on the question of monopolies in tech. But during the week of the Capitol unrest, we found an additional spike in mentions of these companies, driven in part by discussion of moves like dropping Parler and deplatforming President Trump.

Line graph of mentions of several large tech companies, with spike on the week of the Capitol unrest

Mentions of several big tech companies over the past year, with a spike on the week of the Capitol unrest.

Learn more about media intelligence for tech companies on our Technology Industry Page.

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Broadening the Scope of Narrative-Borne Risk

The events at the Capitol are just the latest instance of mis- and disinformation narratives jumping from online forums to the physical world. And Big Tech’s response represents an interesting intersection of two of the biggest issues in brand communications over the past year: narrative-borne risk and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Before we go any further, let’s define these terms:

  • Narrative-borne risk: The threat of sustained online conversations, including those based on mis- and disinformation narratives, causing reputational, monetary, or even physical damage to brands or public entities.
  • Corporate social responsibility: A critical business objective that enables a company to achieve positive social change. In 2020, this largely manifested in the efforts by many companies, under pressure from the public, to take a public stance on tumultuous social events such as Black Lives Matter protests and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about CSR, and how brands can implement successful CSR initiatives, in our guide.

“The responses we’ve seen from tech companies to the Capitol unrest show that corporate actions against narrative-borne risk aren’t always primarily intended to protect the company in question, but the public good.”

Typically, when we talk about narrative-borne risk, we’re talking about narratives that can have a direct impact on brands. But the responses we’ve seen from tech companies to the Capitol unrest show that corporate actions against narrative-borne risk aren’t always primarily intended to protect the company in question, but the public good. The election fraud narratives that largely drove the riot didn’t center on companies like Google or Apple, and didn’t pose a direct threat to them. But those companies nonetheless recognized that taking action was a CSR imperative: it would both serve the public good, and demonstrate that they recognize their role in shaping the society in which they operate – a critical element of brand protection today.

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Taking a More Proactive Approach

Blocking accounts and dropping apps in the wake of a violent event is, by definition, a reactive approach to dealing with such issues. How can companies and officials use media intelligence to be more proactive and get ahead of future incidents? 

In the leadup to the Capitol riot, there were warning signs across digital and social media. Zignal was featured in numerous news articles showing how media intelligence provided key insights before, during, and after the event. Armed with intelligence like this, tech companies and officials can make sure they’re ready for the next time an online narrative begins to show signs it may have consequences in the physical world. 

See all of our contributions to press coverage of the Capitol unrest on our press page.

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Methodology

This analysis was conducted using Zignal’s “Technology Industry 2020” environment. We filtered using keywords and hashtags related to large tech companies to analyze the impact of the Capitol unrest on conversations related to the tech industry. Regarding mis- and disinformation: Please note that Zignal Labs does not determine what is true or false. Rather, Zignal looks at stories and themes that surface in the media and provides data regarding origin, spread, degree of automation involved in the spread, and the like.