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There was jubilation across Twitter earlier this month when Twitter permanently banned Donald Trump from the platform. Trump had used Twitter to announce many of his policies and views while acting as President. There have been mixed reactions across the political spectrum from outraged Trump supporters protesting a violation of free speech to celebration from many among the political left.
It has to be said that Trump utilised the platform in a way that no other world leader has been able to do and its unlikely many others will be able to emulate his combative style. Many will remember his taunting of Kim Jong-un by calling him ‘Rocket Man’ while tensions rose over the North Korean nuclear project. Trump’s tweets evoked instant reactions from outrage to adoration as he stirred up his base which remained remarkably loyal to him throughout his time in office.
The Trump supporters protesting that his 1st amendment rights are being violated are ignoring Twitter’s right to enforce its own policies on its private platform. The harder questions to answer revolve around silencing a head of state and the likelihood of future bans for expressing certain views. It can be argued that one of the major factors in Trump’s rise to the presidency was manipulation of social media to gain maximum attention in the news cycles and gain even more name recognition than he already had.
As Trump was banned with less than two weeks left in office, he had no chance to hit back at Twitter. It is important to note that Twitter didn’t attempt to stop his provocative rhetoric earlier. Having allowed Trump’s tweets for so long Twitter could have waited until Trump had left office instead of silencing an acting head of state. Instead they have set a precedent which could see social media platforms politically align themselves with what they allow on their platforms.
The actual Tweets which Trump was banned for on the 8th January were not particularly incendiary at all in comparison to some of his others. One was confirming that he would not be attending the inauguration and the other was calling all those who had voted for him in 2020 patriots. Twitter explained its reason for banning him was related to his not attending the inauguration which they interpreted as further undermining the credibility of the election.
A far more controversial tweet of Trump’s was during the riot at the Capitol, which many attribute to Trump, in which he declared that he loved the rioters and said that they were very special. Twitter did eventually delete the video as he yet again he undermined the legitimacy of the election. Five people died in the Capitol riot and it is still unclear if Trump will be fully impeached for inciting it. The fact that Biden’s inauguration occurred without incident will have been a relief for the vast majority of Americans. The fact that all states were on standby for potential violence demonstrates what a dangerous tipping point the nation was poised upon.
Whether Twitter was right or wrong to ban Trump it was followed by a series of further bans from Facebook/Instagram, Youtube, Snapchat and Twitch. Further social media censorship needs to be closely watched. Trump is considering starting his own media organisation which will continue to allow him to broadcast his views to the nation. Social media platforms will have achieved nothing more than taking a first step down a slippery slope to authoritarian censorship.