Outgoing President Donald Trump has been the center of controversy his entire career. But nothing quite as intense as the controversy that has surrounded him since the failed takeover of the Capitol by Trump’s own extremist supporters. But despite the accusations levied at him since January 6th, Trump could comfort himself by reaching out directly to his supporters via his favorite social media platforms.
That is, until he was silenced by those same sites. Did Big Tech go too far in banning Trump? Have they violated Trump’s First Amendment rights? And what’s all this talk about the Parler servers? CELEB breaks it down.
The Tweets That Silenced a President
Although critics have been pressuring Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for years to ban Trump from his site, he refused. Dorsey often cited a desire to allow free exchange between an elected officials and the voters, and an enthusiasm for preserving free speech. However, Trump apparently finally went too far for the Twitter CEO. After the events at the Capitol last week, cries were renewed to remove Trump from Twitter since many of his posts during the actual attempted insurrection were inflammatory. Internal records of Twitter employee conversations showed that they were worried about Trump’s ability to incite more violence through his Twitter account.
Ultimately, the heads of the company caved under employee pressure and Trump was banned from the platform. Originally, the ban was intended to last 12 hours and to give Trump a chance to comply to Twitter Terms of Service when he returned. In the intervening time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg opted to ban Trump indefinitely from both Facebook and Instagram; at least until after the inauguration. Zuckerberg who has historically taken very little action against the outgoing President despite controversies that have occurred on his social media platform.
However, Zuckerberg said in a statement on January 7th in part, “Over the last several years, we have allowed President Trump to use our platform consistent with our own rules, at times removing content or labeling his posts when they violate our policies. We did this because we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech. But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.
We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
After Trump’s Twitter ban ended the following day, it was clear that he had no intent to dial back inciting rhetoric. Twitter took the surprising action of banning Trump’s account altogether after that – erasing it entirely.
The Washington Post reports, “Twitter specifically raised the possibility that Trump’s recent tweets could mobilize his supporters to commit acts of violence around President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, an analysis that experts saw as a major expansion in the company’s approach to moderating harmful content online. Its action meant Trump’s tweets disappeared from the site, removing the catalogue of his thoughts except for those preserved by researchers and other documentarians.”
Other Companies Jump On the Banned-wagon
After Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter banned the outgoing president, other social media platforms followed suit. Soon Pinterest, TikTok, Twitch, Discord, Snapchat and Reddit had also banned the president or talk of inciting violence like what occurred at the Capitol on January 6th.
Social media platform Parler was becoming the app of choice for Trump supporters in recent months, promising a free speech haven. A lot of the organizing for the January 6th insurrection attempt was completed on Parler, so Google Play and Apple both opted to remove the app from their app stores.
Amazon, who held the servers on which Parler ran, took it a step farther. Per Buzzfeed, “Amazon notified Parler that it would be cutting off the social network favored by conservatives and extremists from its cloud hosting service Amazon Web Services, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News. The suspension, which will go into effect on Sunday just before midnight, means that Parler will be unable to operate and will go offline unless it can find another hosting service.”
Do Tech Companies Have the Right To Ban People for ToS Violations?
In short, yes. The First Amendment protects people from government interference, but specifically does not limit a company’s right to choose how their platform is used. Although most social media platforms promise free speech as part of their operating goals, there has to be a limit to it. Just like you can’t shout, “fire!” in a crowded theater without repercussions, the companies seem to agree that you can’t talk about inciting violence and overthrowing the duly elected government with repercussions.
Conservatives feel as though they’re being unfairly targeted and there is certainly something to be said for the fact that it’s mainly their sites and platforms being banned. However, that’s because they’re currently involved in large-scale organizations that many consider violent. A reckoning will have to come in upcoming months over whether all of the banned sites and users were chosen fairly or painted with a broad brush. However, this sort of internal investigation is unlikely to occur until well after the inauguration for certified President-Elect Joe Biden on January 20th.
What Happened to Parler?
Parler’s shut down has been somewhat of a mess. As the servers for Parler were being shut down and backed up, a programming error allowed anyone to gain access to the databases. Tech-savvy self-styled activists then created admin accounts, and downloaded all of the data – all of it. They were able to access geo-tags for users, including those who were present at the Capitol on the 6th. In order to be verified on Parler, you have to submit a driver’s license, front and back. So the hackers were also able to access that information. Government agencies looking for information on who was involved in the failed insurrection on the 6th were able to get far more information than they had previously had access to, and no-fly lists were quickly compiled from the information dump. It was a tech flub on a massive scale and some wonder if it was intentional.
What Can Trump Do to Remedy What He Sees as a Violation of His Rights?
The short answer is – not much. Because the companies have protections that he and his conservative allies have worked hard to uphold, none of the companies have violated any law. While there will certainly be anti-trust lawsuits and attempts to punish the Big Tech companies for seeming to take a side, it’s unlikely they’ll amount to much.
Because the President still has access to a press release engine right there in his own home, the White House, he still has a way to communicate with the voters. Like every President before him, Trump can use good old fashioned TV, radio, and print. However, those close to the outgoing President have suggested that he is incensed over the bans, although not surprised.
Against the backdrop of this stinging rebuke, Trump may have suffered one of his hardest hits yet as the PGA chose to distance itself from Trump in the wake of the Capitol riots; banning Trump properties from hosting any further PGA events. This appeared to be a heavy blow to the President, who has always taken his association with golf and the elites who play it for granted. Right now the president feels isolated and cut adrift, and critics worry that he may be stewing. The inauguration of Biden is a mere 9 days away and everyone’s wondering; what will the next 9 days hold? As far as the tech companies are concerned, whatever it holds will have nothing to do with them.