Too little, too late

Twitter, the social media platform that arguably made Donald Trump the most corrosive influence in US politics, took away his online megaphone last week, banning his account permanently because of “the risk of further incitement of violence” following the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday.

Too little, too late

Trump’s Twitter account—which had 89 million followers before it was shuttered--has long been a venue for impulsive policy announcements, complaints about the media; disparagement of women, minorities and his perceived enemies; and praise for his supporters, replete with exclamation marks, all-caps, and one-word declarations such as “Sad!”

He has fired a number of officials on Twitter—the latest being his Defense secretary--and his posts, like his speeches at rallies, are a torrent of misinformation.

But Twitter has long given Trump and other world leaders a pass from its rules against personal attacks, hate speech and outright lies—until last week’s assault on the US Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters composed of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and far-right groups, militiamen and fringe conspiracy theorists—egged on by none other than the US president.

After these thugs overran and briefly occupied the seat of the US Congress, Facebook suspended Trump’s account through Jan. 20 and possibly indefinitely, while Twitter merely suspended his account for 12 hours after he posted a video that repeated false claims of election fraud and praised the rioters who stormed the US Capitol.

But on Friday, Twitter made the ban permanent, saying his recent tweets amounted to a glorification of violence when read in the context of the Capitol riot and plans circulating online for more armed protests around the inauguration of the man who beat him in the November election, President-elect Joe Biden.

Twitter also shut down his campaign account shortly after it sent out a tweet with a “statement from President Trump” accusing Twitter of “banning free speech” and coordinating with “the Democrats and the Radical Left” to silence him.

The social media platform also deleted new tweets posted by Trump on the official government account, and added that accounts used by Trump to try to get around the ban could face permanent suspension as well under its “ban evasion” policies.

The unprecedented move by Twitter—too little, too late, some critics felt—still triggered cries of censorship.

“We are living Orwell’s 1984. Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what’s left is only there for a chosen few,” tweeted Trump’s son, Donald Jr.

“So the ayatollah, and numerous other dictatorial regimes can have Twitter accounts with no issue despite threatening genocide to entire countries and killing homosexuals etc... but The President of the United States should be permanently suspended,” he complained in another tweet. “Mao would be proud.”

Less strident voices also warned of the power wielded by “big tech.”

“Big Tech is not going to stop with the president of the United States,” Kay James, president of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, tweeted. “They can ban you next and everyone reading this.”

But others welcomed the ban. The Anti-Defamation League said it was “an excellent step” and “a fitting end to a legacy of spewing hate and vitriol.”

Mark Warner, a Democratic senator, and frequent Silicon Valley critic called it “an overdue step” but highlighted how the misinformation ecosystem is much larger than one man alone.

Maggie Haberman, the White House correspondent for the New York Times, noted that Twitter did not ban Trump for more outrageous tweets in the past, but finally did so with only 12 days left in his presidency.

The British biologist Richard Dawkins addressed the concerns about censorship.

“Is Twitter’s ban of Trump a worrying Free Speech issue? On reflection, I think not because (a) Trump went far beyond expression of opinion (which should be protected) to outright lies, demonstrable falsehoods. Falsehoods, moreover which were calculated to (b) incite violence.

After last week’s assault on the US Capitol, this is difficult to dispute. And those who argue free speech need to remember that Twitter, after all, is a private company—and free to refuse service to anyone, even the president of the United States. The only question we have is why it did not do so sooner and save everyone the pain.

Topics: Twitter , Donald Trump , US Capitol , Joe Biden , Anti-Defamation League
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