Not Easy, Not Unreasonable, Not Censorship: The Decision To Ban Trump From Twitter

from the there's-a-point... dept

When I started writing this post, it was about Facebook's decision to suspend Trump's account indefinitely, and at least until Joe Biden is inaugurated in a couple weeks. I had lots to say on that... and then Friday afternoon, Twitter decided to ban Trump's Twitter account permanently. This is a bigger deal, not just because it's permanent, rather than indefinite, but because so much of Trump's identity over the last four years (and before that) is tied up in his Twitter account and followers.

Certainly, all of this has kicked off a whole new storm from across the political spectrum. You have Trump supporters who are furious and (falsely) claiming that this is "censorship" or unprecedented and heavy handed (it is none of those things). Then you have Trump haters who are screaming about how this is all way too late and is trying to close the barn door after the horses have long since bolted. I think neither argument is accurate. Will Oremus has a long (and very interesting!) look over on OneZero about how Facebook supposedly chucked out its own rulebook to come up with an excuse to suspend Trump's account:

Yet Facebook’s “indefinite” ban on Trump marks an overnight reversal of the policy on Trump and other political leaders that the social network has spent the past four years honing, justifying, and defending. The unprecedented move, which lacks a clear basis in any of Facebook’s previously stated policies, highlights for the millionth time that the dominant platforms are quite literally making up the rules of online speech as they go along. As I wrote in 2019, there’s just one golden rule of content moderation that every platform follows: If a policy becomes too controversial, change it.

Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebook has allowed Trump to use its platform in a manner “consistent with our own rules” is laughable. The only thing that has been consistent, until now, is Facebook’s determination to contort, hair-split, and reimagine its rules to make sure nothing Trump posted would fall too far outside them. The Washington Post wrote a rather definitive account of the social network’s yearslong Trump-appeasement campaign earlier this year. Among other Trump-friendly measures, the Post noted, “Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers.”

And Twitter is also justifying its decision by saying that the reason was a rules violation:

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:

I don't need to post the factors. You can take a look yourself if you want. So, Oremus is mostly correct that they're making the rules up as they go along, but the problem with this framing is that it assumes that there are some magical rules you can put in place and then objectively apply them always. That's never ever been the case. The problem with so much of the content moderation debate is that all sides assume these things. They assume that it's easy to set up rules and easy to enforce them. Neither is true. Radiolab did a great episode a few years ago, detailing the process by which Facebook made and changed its rules. And it highlights some really important things including that almost every case is different, that it's tough to apply rules to every case, and that context is always changing. And that also means the rules must always keep changing.

A few years back, we took a room full of content moderation experts and asked them to make content moderation decisions on eight cases -- none of which I'd argue are anywhere near as difficult as deciding what to do with the President of the United States. And we couldn't get these experts to agree on anything. On every case, we had at least one person choose each of the four options we gave them, and to defend that position. The platforms have rules because it gives them a framework to think about things, and those rules are useful in identifying both principles for moderation and some bright lines.

But every case is different.

And no matter what you think of Trump, his case was different.

The regular rules could never apply to Trump because Trump is not a regular person. And, no, not even comparisons to foreign leaders are apt, because as silly as American exceptionalism is, the United States is still different than nearly every other country in the world. And, it's not just the position he's in (for the next few days anyway), but also Trump's willingness to use his account to make pronouncements unlike pretty much any other world leader (or at least, world leader of consequence).

Trump is, perhaps, the perfect example of why demanding clear rules on social media and how they moderate is stupid.

As for the question of why now? Well, clearly, the context has changed. The context is that Trump inspired a mob of goons to invade the Capitol building this week, and there remain legitimate threats that his cultish followers will continue to do significant damage. Certainly some people have insisted that this kind of violence was always a risk -- and it was. But it had not actually erupted to this level in this fashion. Again, we're talking about context. There's always more context.

And given that the situations are always edge cases, that the context always matters, and that things are always shifting, you can totally see why it's a reasonable decision to ban Trump from their platforms right now, based on everything else going on, and the likelihood that he might inspire more violence. I think it's worth reading Ben Thompson's analysis as well. He's long explained the risks associated with banning Trump from these platforms, and suggested why they should not have in the past. But the thing that changed for him, beyond even just the threat to democracy, is the threat to the rights of both individuals and companies to make their own decisions on these things:

Remember my highest priority, even beyond respect for democracy, is the inviolability of liberalism, because it is the foundation of said democracy. That includes the right for private individuals and companies to think and act for themselves, particularly when they believe they have a moral responsibility to do so, and the belief that no one else will. Yes, respecting democracy is a reason to not act over policy disagreements, no matter how horrible those policies may be, but preserving democracy is, by definition, even higher on the priority stack.

Turn off Trump’s account.

But here's the more important point -- especially directed at the people who will falsely claim that this is somehow censorship: President Trump is not being censored. He is not being limited. At any moment of any day (certainly for the next two weeks, and likely beyond) he can walk out of his office and have every major TV news channel (and every internet streaming platform) broadcast whatever he wants to say, and people will see it.

And to those who think that Twitter should have done this earlier, or that it would have made a difference, recognize that your concern is not so much with Twitter, but with Trump himself. Remember that while Trump might not be able to send a tweet right now, he still (literally) has the power to launch nuclear missiles at Twitter's headquarters. And, really, that's the problem. Trump is obviously too toxic for Twitter. But he's also too toxic for the White House. And the real complaint shouldn't be about Twitter or Facebook acting too late, but about Congress failing to do their job and remove the mad man from power.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: adaptability, censorship, consequences, content moderation, donald trump, free speech, platforms, rules, section 230, social media
Companies: facebook, twitter

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread

  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous, 9 Jan 2021 @ 4:19am

    Not Easy, Not Unreasonable, Not Censorship-WRONG,WRONG, & WRONG

    I was reading your article and it went to a piece of garbage when i read.

    "trump-inspired a mob of goons to invade the capitol building this week, and there remain legitimate threats that his cultish followers"

    I was on the grounds in the capitol on the 6th from 6 am -until after curfew was in place and national guard was dispatched. there was not a mob of goons that were trump supporters that were at all responsible for what happened, it was Antifa/BLM activists disguised as trump supporters with equipment not related to what trump supporters had, such as hammers for breaking glass, and other things such as walkie talkies communicating that they had to make trouble to make trump supporters look bad (in other words frame trump). they did not have American flags, they were not in patriotic garb other than hats resembling trump attire.

    Not everyone who was there were trump supporters, many of whom were there were people who lost their livelihood and were in opposition to Biden becoming president for many reasons, everyone should know by now why Biden is a terrible choice.

    There were so many people there, there was a sea of people as far as my eyes could see waving American flags. if i were to guess how many people were there, the estimate would be anywhere from 500,000-800,000 patriots there. patriots with American flags for what? for the save America march! CNN, MSNBC, and other anti-trump outlets didn't cover it the numbers were so great.

    When trumps speech was over pointing out valid claims of election meddling. most people went home, others stayed and marched to the capitol building which i remained and observed hanging with other conservative media outlets who were covering what was going on there. everyone was peaceful, but when i was at the capitol building, protesters were let in the barriers outside the capitol building, and after a short time after they were allowed inside by the security/police.

    At the same time, i observed people trying scaffolded to windows trying to break inside while protesters were outside chanting USA/waving American flags. these individuals, the ones breaking inside were not Trump supporters and were not there with flags or chanting USA. it was the trump supporters who put a stop to them when i pointed it out to a woman who began to shout, Antifa! (identifying the men breaking in the capitol building through the windows). it was trump supporters to by force made citizen arrests and brought these instigators to the police themselves.

    When a shot rang out, trump supporters left from inside and made it to where i was standing (which was outside the capitol across the street with media). they told me that they were first inside and were let in by security/police and had taken pictures with them and there was not hostilities or violence and that an unarmed woman had been shot and nobody who entered was armed and left right away while others who were dressed in black with walkie talkies had rushed inside passed them physically confronting police/security.

    during this time trump supporters remained outside the building and many dispersed and began going home when police/national guard in riot gear showed up. there were agitators who remained that were not trump supporters while trump supporters were actively trying to prevent them from confrontation with the police/national guard. everyone knew the bad actors were not trump supporters and there to make trump supporters look bad.

    i left shortly after but trump supporters were assaulted by the riot police/national guard. but at no point were trump supporters there to do anything other than show support for the president and make their voices heard that they wanted a stop to letting Biden become president.

    at no point did i see weapons in the hands of Trump supporters or trump protesters. this was a setup by the left and BLM/Antifa.

    How do i know? i was there and you were not.
    Furthermore, all big tech media are deleting video proof of what really happened, censoring the facts that trump supporters and other patriots were not there causing violence.

    how do i know? because my friends with he media had their videos removed without reasons given.

    so that blue hair of yours isn't such a good color for you, Masnick. you should put your own two feet on the ground where something happened before you write about something you know little to nothing about because you were not there.

    but the idea of your article is to radicalize your readers to hate the over half a million people that showed up who were skeptical of the election results, fed up with lockdowns and violence on their cities from BLM/Antifa, and lost everything. people that were grandparents, parents, families, homeless, veterans, and patriots. portraying them as "Trump-inspired a mob of goons to invade the capitol building this week, and there remain legitimate threats that his cultish followers", when that is not true. not true at all!

    But you know why BIG TECH and the media are rushing to stomp the voices of TRUMP supporters and revealing the truth? SO they can control the narrative on the media platforms and censor revelations that the election WAS STOLEN and such news would REUIN platforms like yours credibility, especially after falsely mischaracterizing Trump's supporters and the many other patriots in the hundreds of thousands in the capitol on Jan 6th.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.