ARYAAN S. MISRA
“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter” – Jack Dorsey
This was taken from a Twitter thread (ironically enough) tweeted by the cofounder of Twitter regarding their decision to remove President Trump from Twitter. That is a lot of ‘Twitter’ for one sentence, but I can’t help myself. It is as though Twitter is to discourse what Cajun seasoning is to a potato salad— the ingredient that enlivens an otherwise “meh” undertaking. Especially, since most discourse takes place on it.
Twitter: It’s What’s Happening (company slogan). Seemingly, it’s what’s always happening. It is this omnipresent, and arguably omnipotent, nature of Twitter that made the social media giant’s decision to remove the incumbent Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful military from its platform international headlines.
What started with a platform which permits 280 characters rippled through corporations across the board— Facebook, Amazon and Snapchat— leaving many astonished that the billionaire President had Snap in the first place. But it wasn’t just social media companies. Visa, AT&T and Marriot all suspended their ties with Mr. Trump.
In light of this domino effect, many wondered if Trump just got #cancelled. Well, on Nov 4 President Trump was cancelled, democratically. The events of last month however, ranging from the Capitol riot to the rampant deplatforming of Trump, weren’t remotely democratic.
In Twitter’s defense, the company took several steps to warn @realDonaldTrump that his account was in jeopardy since his actions were directly in violation with the ‘terms of conditions’ he had voluntarily accepted. Twitter first disabled the ‘retweet’ feature on his tweets, then deleted specific tweets, then temporarily suspended his account (after which he continued tweeting from other accounts). His last tweet which called the rioters “lovely people” broke the camel’s back, and Twitter finally banned him.
But what about Amazon? Is the despicable insurrection attempt sufficient grounds for former POTUS to not receive 1-day Prime delivery?
While legislators debate the legal nuance of ‘incite’, they can do virtually nothing about Trump’s voice being sequestered. The Constitution protects private organizations from falling within the purview of the First Amendment. While Twitter and other companies didn’t do anything illegal, legal acts can be immoral.
I wager that free speech is as much an American value as it is a protected right, and it is the responsibility of American corporations to preserve that value. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stood against the decisions of tech giants saying, “President Trump can turn his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others – like many Black, Brown and LGTBQ activists who have been censored by social media companies – will not have that luxury.”
“The key distinction between deplatforming Trump and traditional forms of censorship is that instead of the state restricting speech (such would be the case in China for example) restrictions on free speech are guided by media conglomerates,” says Luke Losie (’23). To allow corporations to wield such power is to set a daunting precedent, one which will be far more unjust for minority voices. Just because Mr. Trump is an unlikeable character, we rejoice that the online public sphere has become a saner place. But if Twitter existed in the Reichstag, Nazis would too have rejoiced at the suspension of Otto von Habsburg’s (Prince of Austria and an ardent anti-fascist) Twitter account.
“Partly it’s a monopoly problem,” said William Gorton, Associate Professor of Political Science. He adds, “Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon simply have too much market power. Perhaps Congress could look into regulating social media outlets via anti-trust legislation.” Regulating social media companies might be the key, and in fact anti-trust cases and allegations of monopoly marketing have been brought to the courts, but it will be a long time before Congress can reorganize the structure of such companies.
Nobody ever imagined 280 characters typed by the person with nuclear codes would determine foreign policy. Nobody ever imagined social media to become the dominant form of public discourse for every faction of the political spectrum. Twitter has more authoritarian leaders tweeting every hour, should they
be banned too? We are trudging through a new swamp, one that cannot be drained by banning @realDonaldTrump.