During Donald Trump’s four year stint at the White House, Twitter allowed his antics against his rivals to spread conspiracies and provoke other nations. After an actual violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, the social media platform decided to take his favorite megaphone away, banning his account permanently.
But, is it too late now? The decision does not seem like it lets Twitter off the hook after years of enabling the president, allowing a large chunk of American people to be sucked into an angry alternate reality. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have long been warned by those who study social media misinformation about the president’s words.
“I’m not going to applaud the move now when it is politically the most obvious, easy and — let’s be frank — good business decision,” said Yaël Eisenstat, a former CIA intelligence officer who worked on Facebook election policy before quitting in frustration, according to Bloomberg. “Inciting your followers to engage in insurrection is a high form of treason and allowing your platform to be used for that purpose makes you complicit.”
Trump rarely went more than a few hours without tweeting during his presidency. His 88 million followers would continuously go through his incendiary posts tended to be inspired by his latest conversations, or by his reactions to daytime cable news.
Trump’s Twitter messages would be repeated on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram and the prohibitory move by Twitter now puts pressure on other leading social networks to also ban the president. Facebook and Instagram have suspended Trump until at least Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Jessica González, co-chief executive officer of Free Press, said that Twitter’s move was “a day late and a dollar short,” and said she hoped other social media platforms would follow suit. “It’s time,” she said. “If it’s not clear now, it’ll never be clear to them.”
The usual protocol followed by social media platform’s policy teams after a public outcry on the President’s controversial messages would be to analyze the word choice, escalate the decisions to their top executives, and often waver the call. During racial protests, in May 2020, when the president posted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, Twitter hid the post for glorifying violence, while Facebook left it standing, which staged an internal protest among employees.
Bloomberg explains how Twitter’s ban on Trump was a slow process, “First, the company put warning labels on his tweets that supported Capitol rioters, then hid them, before suspending the account. It finally led to the latest action, determining that his tweets were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol.” Trump’s followers are supposedly planning more attacks on government buildings on Jan. 17, according to Twitter.
YouTube still allows the president to post, while he has been indefinitely suspended from Snap.
Parler, an American microblogging and social networking service, has become a haven for Trump’s followers who are upset with the other sites’ content moderation policies, was kicked off the Google Play store. If it doesn’t come up with stricter rules for its users, Apple threatened to remove it as well. However, Trump doesn’t appear to have an official Parler account.
After Trump’s ban, the debate is now likely to shift to how social media algorithms amplify anger and conspiracy theories. A potential revision of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — the law that provides legal protection around user-generated posts — is already being faced by the companies.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia described Twitter’s move as “an overdue step” in a tweet but said the focus should be on “an entire ecosystem that allows misinformation and hate to spread and fester unchecked.” Meanwhile, Senator Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday’s “events will renew and focus the need for Congress to reform Big Tech’s privileges and obligations.”
Among the Republicans, this move seems to rekindle concerns about ‘tech power over the public’ conversation. “Free speech no longer exists in America,” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, said in a tweet, echoing outrage by several right-wing figures.
Waited Too Long
Laura Gomez, a former Twitter employee, thought Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey had waited too long to punish him and said before the company suspended Trump, she worried Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol could happen again if the president remained on the platforms.
“Many people of color and women who worked at this platform and used this platform warned about the dangers of Trump and all of his supporters and these extremists using this platform,” Gomez, the founder of Proyecto Solace, said on Bloomberg Television Friday. “But unfortunately no one listened.”
Earlier today, a coalition of civil rights and advocacy groups, Stop Hate for Profit, threatened to organize another advertiser boycott from Facebook (previously a subject of the advertiser boycott in July over proliferation of hate speech), Twitter, and Google-owner, Alphabet, if the social media platforms didn’t remove Trump from their platforms permanently by January 20.
“We will not be SILENCED! STAY TUNED.” Trump tweeted from the official @POTUS account after which Twitter immediately removed the tweet. @teamTrump was also removed after Trump tried to communicate with his followers from the account