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.

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

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous, 10 Jan 2021 @ 6:20am


    They gained entry on the property they(capitol police/security), themselves let in.

    Obviously, you're framing the hundreds of thousands of people that were there at the Save America march, every one of them with the intention to "subvert democracy", doesn't make it true. Most of the people gathered inside and outside the capitol building and at the march were staunch patriots and wanted their voices hered by showing up in numbers, whether they were Trump supporters or not, there were there to make it know that they didn't want Biden elected, their presence was democratic. Their actions to go to the capitol was democratic, their actions to voice themselves while outside the capitol shouting USA was democratic, when they were let inside the capitol building, some saw that as a way to get the point across more democratically.

    Under the circumstances, the people there were very patriotic and proactively stopped ba actors breaking into the capitol, because that did not reflect thier intent. Mostly, everyone, there was unarmed and very vocal that they did not want biden. The message conveyed by accessing the capitol was stopped, do not elect biden. That was democratic. The moment cops shot and killed that unarmed woman who was democratically protesting within the capitol building because she we let inside, then tensions inside were confrontational.

    A democratic demonstration is supposed to make a point if you are against whatever it is. They were legally allowed to gather and assemble and make their voices heard. They were let inside so they weren't unlawfully inside. However, when escalations rose after that woman was shot in the head, I suspect the anger with those protesters was like anyone else would respond if they saw someone who was unarmed and innocent would do get very angry/upset a moral human response.

    Joe Biden did not "win" fair and square. An Independent group of data scientists who investigated the voter data within PA and GA found Votes were in real-time being taken from Trump and Given to Biden. Their testimony wasn't to side with Democrat or Republican but to reflect the data from their investigations. They made their investigation results publicly available for anyone to see the results.

    There were TWO hearings in GA within Fulton county that revealed there was election fraud. The hearings were made public with the titles, Georgia Senate subcommittee hearing on election issues Testimony of Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, and Georgia Senate subcommittee continues hearing on election issues.

    I tried submitting this text with links but I wasn't successful, so I suspect the youtube links were the issue.

    So, yea, I think the protests after the Save America March was a patriotic thing to do up to the capitol building, even after the point at which they were let inside the barrier gates, and let inside the capitol building. I don't think that their presence inside after that unarmed woman protester was going to end well, and obviously it did'nt. Nobody could have foreseen that outcome.

    The Patiots and Trump supporters did have a conflict inside after that. However, the supporters outside did identify bad actors and made attempts to stop them from breaking inside the capitol building. Obviously, since you're a Democrat supporter you'll spin this in a way to FRAME everyone outside the capitol building, and inside it too, and Trump himself, as "subverting democracy".

    No, subverting democracy is doing nothing and allowing a tyrannous political party(the democrats), get away with screwing America. These were patriots that were there, for the most part, to make their voices heard and to get their point across peacefully(as in unarmed protest).

    Unfortunately, Democrats doubled down their rhetoric with condecending tone towards the opposition party, and successfully manipulated Republicans in opposition to not fight democratically challenging the election results of the contested states.

    I think that anytime there is that large of a body of people that feel that strongly about not allowing a candidate to be the president that the evidence should he presented an heard in a court. That never happened thanks to frivolous cases, and judges unwilling to hear the ones that were legitimate on their merits. And all of that is a legitimate rationale for why all the patriots there at the capitol should have been there every step of the way.

    Democracy is pretty much when everyone agrees to either agree on something and make it happen, setting aside disagreements and differences. Obviously, that wasn't the case with present investigations in contested states. Had investigators not found problems within contested states and contested states allowed investigations, then I'm certain things would never have gone to the extent that they did.

    Democrats used what happened to exaggerate the event and as a coup and labeled protesters rioters and terrorists and successfully manipulate Republicans from contested states to give up contesting election results. In addition, Democrats financially funded Facebook and Twitter happily obliged calls by democrats to silence(censor) all conservatives up to the president.

    Democrats and supporters are using what happened to take control and the tyranny will continue so long as their enablers allow it.

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