The Problem with Deplatforming Trump
The sighs of relief from all around the world were almost palpable when Donald Trump’s Twitter account was permanently banned this month. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Google (among others) have all ‘cancelled’ the president from their platform, giving many of us a satisfying sense of schadenfreude. Nobody thinks Trump’s tweets were acceptable and few will be sad that he is gone from our newsfeeds. On the other hand, the deplatforming of Trump sets a dangerous new precedent for democracy, with unelected tech executives choosing to silence the voice of a sitting president.
While it is not right to describe Trump as truly ‘censored’ (the man can call into Fox and Friends whenever he likes), do not underestimate the impact on a politician to lose access to Facebook and Twitter. Those companies own the most powerful platforms in politics, giving politicians direct access to hundreds of millions of voters. This gives the executives of those companies outsized power, and this is not necessarily something we should welcome — no matter how much we approve their guillotining of Donald Trump.
It is true, of course, that Trump’s tweets encouraging his supporters to attack the Capitol were in breach of Twitter and Facebook’s rules against promoting violence. However, Trump has been breaching those same rules for the full duration of his term as president. Some of these are even more flagrant than his support of the Capitol rioters (just one example: his various threats to “totally destroy” North Korea).
However, Twitter has repeatedly pointed to a ‘public interest framework’ to explain why it has left Trump’s account alone, until now. Facebook has a similar frameworks. These principles basically say that the public should be able to hear directly from politicians and world leaders, and so those public officials can get a free pass for content that would earn normal users a ban. These frameworks make sense. As appalling as Trump’s conduct on Twitter is, he was legitimately elected president in a democratic election. Americans should get to hear what he has to say, for better or for worse.
The problem is that Twitter and the other social media platforms have a pair of irreconcilable…