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“Ahead of the Ugandan election,” the official Twitter policy account said in a tweet on Tuesday, “we’re hearing reports that Internet service providers are being ordered to block social media and messaging apps. We strongly condemn internet shutdowns – they are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet.”
Someone at Twitter headquarters actually wrote those words, just four days after they permanently shut off the Twitter handle of President Donald Trump, and virtually every tech giant moved to eliminate the existence of the social media platform Parler.
Twitter’s explanation for Trump’s ban from the platform was some of the most tortured logic I have ever seen in my entire life. They begin by noting two tweets by Trump, one of which said that the 75 million people that voted for him will have a voice long into the future, followed by another that said “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
They then seriously stated, “President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets (1, 2) by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an ‘orderly transition’ on January 20th.”
This is the ridiculous level to which the Silicon Valley elite are willing to go to “justify” shutting down Trump. They are actually splitting hairs and suggesting that a simple statement of non-attendance to an event the outgoing president is not required to attend somehow represents an existential threat to the United States, and must be silenced.
Lest you think I am nitpicking, the very next reason given by Twitter for the ban reads, “The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target, as he will not be attending.”
No, I’m not making this up. The statement by Twitter is that stupid. And it goes on from there, but it doesn’t get any better.
One common thing that is used in virtually all of their arguments for why Trump must go, is the highlighting of a statement, followed by the phrase “is being interpreted as.” And therein lies the problem, of course. Interpreted by whom? Who gets to make themself the neutral traffic cop who can deem what he really meant, or what he really did not mean?
People make ludicrous interpretations of things public officials say all the time. At what point does a nutty fringe interpretation gain enough critical mass for the interpretation to be deemed valid? What level of responsibility does a person have when their words are twisted and misrepresented or otherwise taken wrong? Ask any inhabitant of the Oval Office who ever held the position of president whether or not their words were “interpreted wrong” by millions of people at various points in their administration.
Meanwhile, also on Twitter, they have decided that allowing the Twitter accounts for the Ayatollah remain, despite tweeting in November that “Palestine will be free, while the fake Zionist regime will perish. There’s no doubt about this.” Louis Farrakhan, apparently, also merits keeping, as does Chinese state propaganda and white supremicist Richard Spencer, just to name a few.
That anyone can suggest with a straight face that this isn’t ideological and political censorship of a figure uniquely hated by the Silicon Valley elite, given those facts, is remarkable.
I’m not asking you to be sad Trump’s Twitter account is gone. I’m asking you if this — not only the social media ban of a political figure they hate, but also the frontal assault on applications like Parler — is truly the America you want to live in.
Yes, all of these companies have a constitutional right to do what they did. The First Amendment is about government restrictions on speech, and this doesn’t qualify. Yet, the First Amendment is more than just a civil protection against the government’s ability to shut you up. It is also representative of a core American value, that of the importance of the free expression and tolerance of thought, and the dangers inherent in attempts to silence.
Driving speech underground in the ways that the tech giants are doing will not stop misinformation being shared, it will not walk back radicals from the brink and bring them toward reason, and it will not decrease anger, frustration and bitterness in our political discourse. If anything, it will make all of those problems worse, while ripping apart a core value of our democratic tradition in the process.