The de-facto of the shutdowns was a striking example of the power of the tech industry to shape the fate of even the President of the United States. And it comes after years of efforts by Washington Democrats and Republicans to shrink Silicon Valley – including lawsuits Trump’s antitrust authorities have filed against Facebook and Google in the past few months, as well as efforts both right and left to challenge Section 230, the provision in communications law, which limits the liability of online platforms for what users post on them.
Those lawsuits, legislative efforts, and a possible antitrust investigation by Apple’s App Store echoes the complaint that Trump supporters, civic libertarians, and some prominent Democrats are remarkably airing this weekend: No handful of companies should have that much unilateral authority.
“[I]It shouldn’t affect everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter exercise the uncontrolled power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for talking about billions – especially when political realities facilitate those decisions, ”said Kate Ruane, senior legislature Counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union made a statement.
Of course, many on the left cheered Twitter’s elimination of Trump. Rashad Robinson, president of the Color of Change advocacy group, long argued that Trump and his allies used social media to incite racism in the United States, said in a statement the move was overdue but “monumental progress”. The MP Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Chairman of the energy and trade committee of the house, called himself “facilitated,” and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted “Social media companies have allowed this hideous content to fester for too long and much more has to be done.”
The Democrats’ anger at the tech industry remains real, however – and their looming full control of Congress and the executive will give them an opportunity to try to tame Silicon Valley.
President-elect Joe Biden’s administration is expected to continue pursuing the big tech antitrust proceedings filed by Trump’s agencies. Only this week Biden chose a prominent Facebook critic, Civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta, becomes number 3 in his Justice Department. House Democrats have proposed a number of important legislative changes – beyond objections from some Republicans – to make it easier to break up giant tech companies and keep them from getting bigger.
The Trump-era Conservative complaints against Silicon Valley centered mainly on allegations of censorship and the abolition of culture. The left has another criticism: If powerful companies like Twitter and Facebook had more competition, they would behave more responsibly – even before this became a smart political move.
“It took blood and glass in the halls of convention – and a change in the political winds – for the world’s most powerful tech companies to recognize at the last moment the profound threat posed by Donald Trump,” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Said in a statement. And tweeted Jennifer Palmieri, Former Communications Director for both the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign: “It has escaped me that the day social media companies decided there was actually more they could do To oversee Trump’s destructive behavior, the same day was scholar Democrats would chair all of the Congressional committees that oversee them. “
As a long line of lawsuits show, online platforms are private companies that can pick up or kick anyone they want. Still, Silicon Valley companies had spent four long years trying to forge avenues through the Trump presidency that would minimize the damage he could do while sidestepping the idea that it censored Americans’ free speech. All along, they have been under heavy pressure from Democrats, many from the civil rights world, and others to just turn off Trump’s digital microphone.
After so many years of turmoil, why did Silicon Valley decide this week that it had had enough of Trump?
In retrospect, the arc of Trump’s presidency and the course of recent events have conspired to make what we are witnessing almost inevitable.
Jump back to last winter. Twitter and others in Silicon Valley have said their early experience tackling bad information about Covid-19 was an important lesson: They could throttle information they believed threatened the common good and heaven would don’t fall off.
A few months later, Trump became a lame duck – and a much less terrifying political enemy.
Trump’s loss also undermined one of the social media companies’ loudest arguments for keeping Trump on board: voters should know what their elected leaders think so that they can decide whether to vote for them. This ship had sailed until November 3rd.
More recently, and most terribly, this week was the violence on Capitol Hill that killed five people, including a Capitol police officer. Tech companies had come up with the idea in recent years that they had to act when online rhetoric caused offline damage. The facts hit them in the face: What Trump said online fueled violence in the real world.
And they feared the worst was yet to come. Inauguration day is just around the corner, less than two weeks away, and companies fear Trump and his supporters would use social media to destroy Biden’s swearing-in ceremony.
Then Trump tweeted on Friday that he would not be attending the transfer of power and tweeted, “For everyone who asked, I will not go to the inauguration on January 20thth. “(If Trump’s account is blocked, The tweet is no longer visible.)
While it’s a boring and unsurprising statement of fact, the post on Twitter was interpreted as a potential signal for supporters to feel free to rally in DC and get violent.
Twitter said this on its blog post announcing the Trump ban. Consideration of his decisionsaid the company, was that “[p]Lans for future armed protests have already begun to proliferate on and off Twitter, including a planned secondary attack on the US Capitol and State Capitol buildings “ahead of the inauguration.”
Trump’s launch now solved both long-term headaches and an immediate crisis for Twitter.
It was also important that Facebook offered a little coverage. When it comes to politics, Silicon Valley companies have traditionally been extremely reluctant to stay ahead of others in their industry. Facebook opened the door with its short-term restriction on Trump and gave Twitter the freedom to jump through it.
But as popular as Silicon Valley’s moves have been with many Democrats new to power in Biden’s Washington, it’s a brief hiatus at best for the industry.
“An Overdue Step” tweeted Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “But it’s important to remember that this is much bigger than a person. It’s an entire ecosystem in which misinformation and hatred can spread and fester freely.”