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Trump’s Twitter Ban: Violation of Freedom or Necessary Restraint?

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Volunteer writer Maciek Anielski explains the actions of social media company Twitter when banning the outgoing US President’s account and what this means for the future.

 

On Friday the 8th January, Twitter permanently suspended the @realDonaldTrump account, two days after the storming of the Capital building by his supporters.

In an official statement, twitter cited their Glorification of Violence policy as the reason for Donald Trump’s suspension. They specifically referred to two tweets:

The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!

 

To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.

 

Twitter is fully within their legal rights to police content on their site, with the first amendment applying only to government censorship. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 also protects “interactive computer services” from liability for content posted by their users while allowing them to restrict access to material that it considers objectionable.

Section 230 is an extraordinarily important piece of legislation. If social media companies were liable for content published by their users, they would either have to increase restrictions on content dramatically or remove them altogether.

Without restrictions, social media companies would be hard pressed to find advertisers willing to promote their content next to indecent posts while as a publisher, it is likely that Twitter would have never allowed Trump on their platform.

For a more detailed breakdown, check out this video.

Now, so far, we have been dealing with descriptive claims. Banning @realDonaldTrump was completely legal and repealing Section 230 would only make things worse.

But what’s more significant about this banning is the extent to which it has exposed the power that social media giants have over the content we are allowed to share and consume.

There is little to stop Twitter or Facebook making politically charged decisions about whom to silence, and as things go, few substitutes for these products exist.

Instead of trying to break down vital legal precedents, policymakers should direct their attention towards making it easier for new entrants to disrupt the oligopolistic nature of the market and provide consumers with alternatives. Not only would this increase choice in the market, it would also put pressure on social media companies to act more prudently in fear of losing users and advertisers to competitors.

One way of doing so is to make it harder for tech companies like Facebook to engage in strategic takeovers of smaller companies. Making it easier for startups to gain access to user data would also help tame the power imbalance that incumbent firms have, making smaller firms more attractive to advertisers.

Making policy is difficult, especially in uncharted territory. It is vital that if those in government introduce new laws and regulations; they do so with careful consideration for the consequences. But we cannot afford to be overly cautious.

With misinformation on the rise, trust in our institutions falling, and a perception that free speech is under attack, it is important that those in power respond with solutions.

Donald Trump, not for the first time, has exposed the weakness and fragility of the institutions which govern our lives. It is up to those who come after him to fix them.

 

Header designed by Christos Alamaniotis – Assistant Head of Design

Article edited by Connor Wade – Politics Editor

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Label Political Editor 2020-21

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