On January 8, 2021, Twitter made the decision to permanently suspend Donald Trump from their platform. This news come two days after rioters stormed the Capitol Building in an attempt to halt the confirmation of Joe Biden’s presidential win.
The day Trump was suspended, Twitter cited two of his tweets as rationale:
The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!
To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.
Together, these tweets suggest Trump’s followers should continue to fight the election Joe Biden “unfairly” won. He also confirmed he will not be at the Inauguration, informing protesters he would be out of harm’s way.
Four people died in the January 6th protest. Twitter believes Trump is tweeting to encourage similary activities on the day of the Inauguration or earlier. As a result, he has been banned for using the platform to incite violence.
Censorship From Twitter
There’s a sizable population of Twitter users who feel Trump’s ban was an attack on our freedom of speech. Some of those people have jumped ship to Parler, the “free speech social network.” Conversely, many people feel Twitter’s decision is fully justified, but it does show Twitter has some boundaries.
Twitter is not exactly a modest platform. Using the right search terms you will find pages of adult content. Most images will warn users they’re looking at sensitive material, but Twitter has never been a platform known for being family-friendly. Twitter’s moral standards are not exactly obvious without combing through the terms and conditions, and moderation of standards is often ineffective.
As a private company, Twitter is not obligated to uphold freedom of speech. They can prevent users from discussing certain topics, particularly when they feel the messages could be dangerous for others. After the events of Jan. 6th, the threat is very real, and Twitter users are now aware the platform can take action.
Different Rules of Leaders
Trump’s tweets certainly encouraged the events on Jan. 6th. The tweets on Jan. 8th echoed the tones that resulted in the riots at the Capitol. These tweets are not direct calls to action, but regular users on Twitter have organized violent protests with much more direct language.
Twitter holds leaders to different standard, and they’ve published guidelines for world leaders. They do not permit language encouraging terrorism and clear acts of violence. Ordinary users seem to get away with posting these types of messages without issue.
It’s probably good for highly public figures to be moderated under different standards. Their messages are read by more eyes than the average account, and their following is much more impressionable. Seldom do we see Twitter’s moderators actually take action when these terms are infringed upon, which is why it’s so notable when a public figure receives a penalty.
Twitter Isn’t Real News
It seems you can’t turn on the news without Twitter being cited as a source of information regarding current events. Donald Trump loves to tweet, or at least he did before he was banned. Breaking news spreads on Twitter before it hits major media outlets.
After all, one of Twitter’s earliest claims to fame was during an earthquake in San Francisco in 2007. Users went on the platform to let their followers know they were safe and question the intensity of the quake. It was communication in real-time, and while this works well during a natural disaster, no one is checking the facts. This is why many celebrities have been reported dead on the site despite being alive in their homes.
Twitter allowed Trump to spread every message he wanted, whether it was an official message from the White House or a conspiracy theory surrounding the 2020 election. No one was going to stop him, and Twitter allowed the spread of lies until people got hurt.
No Company Is Unbiased
Try as they might, Twitter is going to be viewed as a biased source of information. Now that the President of the United States is banned, who is one of the most notable republican figures, people will view this as a political agenda.
Twitter tried to remain unbiased for as long as they possibly could. It took a fatal riot for them to finally ban Donald Trump. Prior to this, we saw how much he could get away with. If we look at his response to COVID-19, he spread a lot of misinformation and seemed to contradict CDC guidelines.
Keep in mind, people did riot at the Capitol building. There are people who believe Trump’s messages. They will view Twitter’s ban as an extension of a political agenda. Through this, they will lose users and become a company more closely aligned with the left.
Twitter is Still a Business
Trump’s ban comes at the very tail end of his presidency. For nearly four years, the President of the United States was going on Twitter daily to talk to others. As such, the name Twitter would pop up in media outlets daily, giving the company free promotion.
Having Trump on the platform made Twitter relevant in our daily lives. Even people who didn’t tweet would hear secondhand news that originated on Twitter. Without Trump on there, they lost a lot of potential press coverage.
Despite the celebrations and outcries surrounding his ban, Twitter waited a long time. They allowed a lot of dangerous rhetoric to be spread on their platform, probably because the threats of violence weren’t direct enough. Now that Trump is about to leave office, he’s finally getting the boot from the platform.
The Future of Twitter
Without Trump on Twitter, the responsibility of a private company comes into question. Do they have the right to silence their users, particularly leaders? Are they doing too much? Did they wait too long to take action?
Some people assign blame to Twitter for the riots on Jan. 6th because the platform assisted with the organization. Of course, the platform wants to prevent anyone else from getting hurt. If there are future riots, they want their hands to be clean of responsibility.
Banning Donald Trump is a huge gesture, especially because he was so active on Twitter during each step of his presidency. Just like they have the right to moderate their platform, they also have rights allowing them to benefit from exposure generated by hateful speech. Twitter waited a long time to take any action, and this makes their involvement in riots questionable.
When we look at the moral obligations of major businesses, Twitter may serve as an example. They wanted to make a platform where people could openly communicate, but they certainly did not want their platform to spark riots. As technology becomes more important in all facets of life, we see how much it can impact our nation’s history. We are living in a time when a private company can silence the people who govern it. It’s a moral gray zone, and questions the obligations held by social media companies.