Immediate action, taken under the pressure of urgent events, seldom leads to ideal policies. Donald Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior since losing the presidential election, from a flurry of lies to election theft to inciting a mob to attack Congress, has caused a massive shift among the social media giants who previously tolerated – and benefited directly from it – the increase in traffic from the president’s racist and threatening rhetoric.
Trump and his campaign are currently banned from posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and Twitch. On Tuesday night, YouTube became the newest social media platform to freeze Trump.
Last Thursday, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg did specified: “The shocking events of the past 24 hours clearly show that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining term in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transfer of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden.” Some of these bans are temporary, but at least one, Twitter, is permanent.
There is no reason to shed tears for the death of Trump’s Twitter account. He has used these forums to ignite the flames of violence. But Trump and his supporters were quick to cry from censorship. On Twitter Donald Trump Jr. wrote“The world laughs at America and Mao, Lenin and Stalin smile. Big Tech Can Censor the President? Freedom of speech is dead and controlled by left overlords. “This is absurd on every level. Mao and Company were hardly fans of the private sector, apart from the speech of the political leaders. Companies like Twitter are also not “left” in any meaningful way.
Right-wing claims that Trump is being censored are full of hypocrisy. Political law, after all, usually celebrates the unregulated free market. It is a transparently selfish position to insist that the market rule – unless it harms your own political cause.
But those on the left who distrust the concentration of economic power have generally more cause for concern. As the writer Anand Giridharadas likes to say, the social media crackdown on Trump is a case in which arsonists are allowed to rephrase themselves as firefighters. Trump’s entire political career has been fueled by social media: Twitter allowed him to define himself as a brazen outsider who wasn’t afraid to insult more conventional politicians like Crooked Hillary, Low-Energy Jeb and Sleepy Joe. Facebook has been a lazy greenhouse where myriad Trumpian conspiracy theories, especially the QAnon fantasies, blossomed.
The fact that this social media turns Trump on in the twilight of his presidency is arbitrary and even cowardly. It’s easy to take a heroic stance when the stakes are low. Early in his political career, social media companies were more than happy to benefit from Trump in many ways: he was a reliable click generator, his campaign was a generous buyer of advertising, and his tax cuts made Silicon Valley billionaires even richer.
The belated turn against Trump is a purely cynical exercise. Companies that once benefited from Trump no longer need him. Nor do you have to fear that it will free up regulators that can harm your business.
There’s no reason Trump should have been banned last week for trading lies, racism, and threats throughout his political career – let alone his previous career as a real estate mogul and reality TV star.
As The New York Times observed last AugustTrump has “a long history of inciting and demonizing language”. The newspaper noted that “Trump has used the street response to police brutality against black men and women to step up his re-election campaign by using provocative and sometimes cutting-edge language and images to encourage his supporters to target his opponents demonize or both. ” Trump’s instigation often appeared on his social media accounts, which QAnon believers and white nationalists repeatedly made overtures.
If Trump is worth banning now, he was worth banning many years ago. The decision to ban it now is purely arbitrary, more an assertion of brute corporate power than an attitude of principle. For purely business reasons, cracking down on social media is completely fickle. It highlights why such important decisions should not be left to the heads of some very large companies.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert, considered Trump’s Twitter ban is “problematic”. As Seibert explained, the right to freedom of expression is fundamental. “This fundamental right can be intervened, but in accordance with the law and within the framework established by the legislature – not in accordance with a decision by the management of social media platforms,” said Seibert.
It is wise to claim that the scope of incendiary speech should be set by the state, not by private industry. When incendiary speeches threaten democracy, it is too important to leave it in private hands. Like television and radio, social media is dependent on a public infrastructure and can be regulated in the same way.
Russian politician Alexei Navalny argued that Trump’s ban could set a bad precedent for political speech in other countries, and instead it is recommended that the decision-making process of social media companies be made transparent. Instead of Fiat claims about who is banned, Navalny suggests that Twitter “set up some sort of committee that can make such decisions. We need to know the names of the members of this committee, understand how it works, how its members vote and how we can appeal their decisions. ”
Aside from the particular dilemma of the incendiary speech, there is the bigger problem that the social media giants are now de facto monopolies. As New York Times Columnist Michelle Goldberg Remarks“The ability of tech companies, in loose coordination, to largely silence the loudest man in the world is astounding and shows the limits of analogies to traditional publishers. It is true that Trump can hold a press conference or call Fox News at any time. But depriving him of access to social media tools available to most other people on earth has lowered him in ways that both impeachment and electoral defeat have not done before. ”
If these corporations are powerful enough to be the main guardians between a president and the public, then they have outgrown democratic control. Here, too, the state can play a role. Elizabeth Warrens suggestion Applying antitrust law to wind up these companies now has a new urgency.
In the short term, social media crackdown on Trump could be welcome. But Trump will be gone soon. Facebook, Twitter and the other Internet Leviathans will remain. They should be the target of far-reaching reforms.