by Daniel Shen ’23
Published Feb. 19th, 2021
Former president Donald Trump is known by some for his confrontational remarks and by others for his legislative accomplishments. In the last weeks of his presidency, however, the former President witnessed, and some argue incited, one of the most serious events in American history – the storming of Capitol Hill. Because of Trump’s supposed complicity in initiating the event, he was suspended, in some cases permanently, from social media.
Twitter, Trump’s most popular platform for communication, was the first to cut ties with the ex-president. On January 8th, Twitter permanently banned Trump from the platform stating that, “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Soon, other social media networks, ranging from Facebook to Shopify have banned Donald Trump, and others related to him, from using their services.
Danielle Citron, a Professor from the University of Virginia – Law School, said that Twitter was “Trump’s primary means of peddling lies about the election was social media.” Trump’s unique style of leadership heavily depended on his social media outreach. His removal silenced what little voice he had left to communicate with the people.
Unsurprisingly, this led to a debate on the rights of social media companies and what lengths they truly hold in censoring their users. As Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, says, Trump was banned from the platform “… due [his using it] to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
Some people disagree with Zuckerberg’s approach to the situation. In an article in the Guardian, Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, and Sarah Miller, a policy advisor to Donald Trump, say that “Facebook, Google and Twitter peddle extremism for profit.” In other words, Trump is not the issue, rather that the companies that allow extremist groups to flourish are.
Politicians are questioning whether people have the right to post misleading or false information without consequence. Some argue that Trump himself has done this on several occasions, with great harm to the people of the United States. Previously, companies used the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech to defend themselves against such attacks.
However, with Trump’s ban from social media, the argument has started to weaken.
Many say that Trump’s unique style was to blame for his removal from the platforms and that these private companies have the right to curate who uses their platform. However, some people question why companies are given the jurisdiction to control users on their platform who express their right to free speech. The question has shifted to the broader proposition that asks whether these social media companies defend or endanger the validity of the constitution.
The debate regarding Donald Trump’s presence on social media has grown bigger than previously thought. What once was a debate about an ex-president’s tweets turned into a constitutional debate surrounding a fundamental right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.