On January 8, 2021, President Donald J. Trump wrote the following on Twitter:
“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!!!”
Not long after, the President tweeted:
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Twitter then permanently suspended the account of the President of the United States of America. On its blog, Twitter sought to explain its actions:
“We assessed the two Tweets referenced above under our Glorification of Violence policy, which aims to prevent the glorification of violence that could inspire others to replicate violent acts and determined that they were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
This determination is based on a number of factors, including:
- President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets (1, 2) by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an “orderly transition” on January 20th.
- The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a “safe” target, as he will not be attending.
- The use of the words “American Patriots” to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the U.S. Capitol.
- The mention of his supporters having a “GIANT VOICE long into the future” and that “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an “orderly transition” and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.
- Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the U.S. Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.
As such, our determination is that the two Tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.”
In the above, Twitter references its Glorification of Violence Policy which reads as follows:
Under [the Glorification of Violence Policy], you can’t glorify, celebrate, praise, or condone violent crimes, violent events where people were targeted because of their membership in a protected group, or the perpetrators of such acts. We define glorification to include praising, celebrating, or condoning statements, such as “I’m glad this happened,” “This person is my hero,” “I wish more people did things like this,” or “I hope this inspires others to act.”
Violations of this policy include, but are not limited to, glorifying, praising, condoning, or celebrating:
- violent acts committed by civilians that resulted in death or serious physical injury, e.g., murders, mass shootings;
- attacks carried out by terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups (as defined by our terrorism and violent extremism policy); and
- violent events that targeted protected groups, e.g., the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide.
Innocent Until Proven Trump
Reading a violation of its Glorification of Violence Policy into the two Trump tweets could only come from torturing the English language like you were holding it prisoner at a CIA black site. It reads like a Department of Pre-Crime Indictment from the movie “Minority Report.”
Neither of those Tweets actually violates the policy as it is written. Instead, Twitter Management attempted to put themselves inside the minds of those who might read the president’s two tweets and then imagine how they would perceive them. Yet, this is not part of their stated rules.
The permanent ban of President Trump appears to have triggered a mass exodus from Twitter by Trump supporters. Dozens of prominent Conservatives, opinion columnists, and conservative celebrities saw a massive drop in followers. Fox News Senior Political Analyst Brit Hume reported a drop of 50,000 followers. Navy SEAL Rob O’Neil reported thousands lost. Conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levine both deactivated their Twitter accounts. Actor James Woods reported 200,000 followers gone overnight. Republicans in office also saw large drops in their following accounts: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lost 36,000, Senator Tom Cotton 15,000, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy 41,000.
Twitter saw a nearly four percent drop in its stock price.
Blocked, Banned, and Shut Down
As this occurred, and seemingly in coordination, FaceBook banned President Trump from posting to his account until after the Biden inauguration in two weeks.
Youtube has restricted his account.
Instagram has banned Trump until after the inauguration.
Snapchat has disabled Trump’s account.
Discord has disabled the server named “The Donald.”
Pinterest is limiting the types of hashtags related to Trump that users can post.
Shopify banned two Trump campaign merchandise stores.
Twitch disabled Trump’s account.
Reddit banned the subreddit group “r/DonaldTrump”
Trump is the first Twitter president. It was his preferred platform for speaking directly to the American people. Previous presidents relied on the White House Press Conference to communicate to the Press which then acted as the filter between the public and the president. By shutting him out of all social media platforms of any importance, the net effect is to cut the President of the United States off from direct communication with the public. This may be more power than these platforms should have.
The Mass Effect of Twitter
The public version of Twitter was introduced in 2006. Its creators at the time weren’t even sure what it would be useful for. They imagined that it would be an SMS messaging service used by small groups writing up to 140 characters about what they had for lunch or wanting to meet for a movie. It has grown since then to 330 million users tweeting roughly 500 million times a day. It is estimated that one in five internet users access Twitter every day.
Twitter has evolved from an SMS platform to a major social media platform with enormous influence on world events. During the brief but bloody Green Revolution in Iran, Twitter delayed parking its servers for maintenance at the request of the Obama State Department because Iranian activists were using the app. The term “Twitter Revolution” was being used by journalists to describe the importance of the app to political movements around the world.
But some of the movements that use Twitter to organize are not at all friendly to the United States. The Islamic State used Twitter to run recruitment and messaging campaigns to build a global army. Twitter was also an important tool of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Arab Spring was fueled by tweets. During times of unrest, Twitter is being used as a political tool here in the U.S. and by activists all over the world, for example in Oman, Egypt, Chile, and France. This does not speak of the absence of any political sensibility by Twitter but speaks more to its power in trying to shape events.
In 2016, Twitter was accused of undue influence over the results of the presidential election. While Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and CEO, tried to disclaim that Twitter had played an important role, both the Trump and Hillary campaigns disagreed. Brad Parscale, the digital media director of the Trump campaign said in an interview with Wired Magazine in 2016, “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing. Twitter for Mr. Trump. And Facebook for fundraising.” The president himself acknowledged the power of the platform in his most recent 60 Minutes interview saying, “I think I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have social media.”
Twitter: Mission Political
Twitter’s own mission statement would lead one to think that its purpose is, in large part, to disseminate political information.
“The mission we serve as Twitter, Inc. is to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers. Our business and revenue will always follow that mission in ways that improve – and do not detract from – a free and global conversation.”
Astute readers will note there is nothing in there about freedom of speech or expression under the First Amendment.
Surely, any social media app that purports to advance a free and global conversation knows that politics, political views, and even contention between those views are going to be part of achieving that mission. But in the case of President Trump, Twitter has effectively cut him out of the global conversation for reasons that plainly make no sense.
A clear reading of Twitter’s rules, versus how they are being applied in this case, makes Twitter look arbitrary and bent on serivng the interests of its largest demographic because that is where the money is. And this demographic is people who lean Democrat in their politics.
Twitter sells ad space, which users see in their timelines. Twitter wants revenue from a free and global conversation, but the revenue part comes first.
Their actions against Trump were so capricious that even the American Civil Liberties Union took Twitter to task. According to ACLU Senior Legislative CounselKate Ruane:
“It should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier. President Trump can turn to his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others — like the many Black, Brown, and LGBTQ activists who have been censored by social media companies — will not have that luxury.”
It is often said that the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. But on Friday, January 8, 2021, Jack Dorsey, along with the bosses of Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, staked out the claim. And he did so by using a platform originally intended to let your friends know about a great cheeseburger you just ate.
The ACLU is right. This should concern everyone.