Twitter Ban: Big Tech Censors the President

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Twitter Ban: Big Tech Censors the President
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Twitter ban: Twitter on Friday banned President Trump’s personal account. Other Big Tech companies followed suit. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

Top story from the Wall Street Journal: “Twitter on Friday banned President Trump’s personal account, citing the risk of further incitement of violence and closing off one of his main communication tools following the attack on the US Capitol by a mob of his followers. Facebook, which announced a temporary suspension of Mr. Trump after the riot, said Thursday that it would extend that action indefinitely. And late Friday Alphabet’s Google suspended from its app store the social-media app Parler, which some Trump supporters and other conservatives had flocked to over the past year, saying the service had violated its policies.” Apple and Amazon followed suit, banning Parler from its app store and cloud-based computing service, respectively. Here’s what both sides are saying about the Twitter ban and Big Tech censorship: 

On the Left: A large portion of Liberals applauded Twitter’s decision to ban President Trump, calling it an overdue move that will prevent further violence and perhaps even save democracy. (For example, here’s a sample of celebrity reactions). In an opinion piece for The Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany justified the Twitter ban saying, “Trump’s Tweets Were Never Just Tweets.” Tiffany, along with others who share her view, believes Trump has been using social media platforms as a megaphone to egg on conspiracy theorists and indirectly support violence. She points to Pizzagate in 2016, “the deadly Charlottesville rally in 2017,” and ultimately the “#StopTheSteal movement—a broad online coalition of QAnon conspiracy theorists, Proud Boy militia members, MAGA diehards, and some Republican politicians. It spent months amping itself up on social media, making plans to attack its own democracy.” While many on the left support the ban, others are concerned about censorship. “We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now,” Kate Ruane, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a statement on Friday. “But it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier.” This quote was from Kevin Roose’s piece for The New York Times, which was the most balanced interpretation of the events from the left. In it he says, “there are legitimate questions about whether a small handful of unelected tech executives, accountable only to their boards and shareholders (and, in Mr. Zuckerberg’s case, to neither) should wield such enormous power.” This is a talking point on the right as well, which we’ll highlight below. 

On the Right: Conservatives are furious about the Twitter ban, calling it the most dangerous attack on free speech our country has ever faced. “We are living Orwell’s 1984,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted. “Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech.” On Spiked, Editor Brendan O’Neill touches on a similar point made by Roose above. He says, “… with the flick of a switch, billionaire capitalists voted for by precisely nobody just silenced a man who is still the democratically elected president of the United States. With the push of a button in their vast temples to technology, the new capitalist oligarchs of Silicon Valley have prevented a man who won the second-largest vote in the history of the American republic just two months ago — 74 million votes — from engaging with his supporters (and critics) in the new public square of the internet age.” Right-leaning commentators view the Twitter ban and broader censorship as the ultimate example of hypocrisy. Tristan Justice of The Federalist laid out “28 Times the Media And Democrats Excused Or Endorsed Violence Committed By Left-Wing Activists.” At the top of the list was “Kamala Harris urging her followers to cover rioters’ bail” after “setting fire to Minneapolis.” Or when Chris Cuomo said on prime time: “Who Said Protests Were Supposed To Be Peaceful?” Conservatives also highlighted public figures that haven’t been banned from Twitter including Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, who has repeatedly called for death to America. Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is also allowed to tweet although the United Nations has said his “abuses have amounted to crimes against humanity.” Even Colin Kaepernick’s tweets are being scrutinized. This past summer the ex-quarterback said, “revolting is the only logical reaction” in regards to the George Floyd riots. He added, “We have the right to fight back!” A week later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced he would donate $3 million to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights Camp”. 

Flag This: The Philadelphia Inquirer asked a selection of First Amendment lawyers if Twitter’s ban violates Trump’s free speech. The answer is “Likely not, but it raises questions about social media platforms,” according to Maddie Hanna. “The Constitution protects against government action censoring a citizen’s speech. Twitter, meanwhile, is a private company.” Jeremy Mishkin, a lawyer with Montgomery McCracken in Philadelphia who practices First Amendment law said a newspaper, for instance, is not required to publish a politician’s news release. This is, of course, where the question of “Section 230” comes into play. Is Twitter a platform or a publisher? Their decision to ban Trump seems to indicate that they now unequivocally function as a publisher. This means they could then be liable for user-generated content, which they were shielded from under the auspices of Section 230. Kevin Roose from above made another analogy in his piece saying it’s similar to “a restaurant owner booting an unruly diner for causing a scene.” Roose also noted that “Journalists and historians will spend years unpacking the improvisational nature of these bans, and scrutinizing why they arrived just as Mr. Trump was losing his power, and Democrats were poised to take control of Congress and the White House.” A short-term answer may be that Twitter knows their audience. According to Pew Research Center, “just 10% of users produced 92% of all tweets from US adults since last November.” Moreover, “69% of these highly prolific users identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.”

Flag Poll: What do you think about the Twitter ban and Big Tech censorship? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.