One of the many bits of fallout from Wednesday’s riot was the decision by Twitter to permanently ban President Trump’s account, as Allahpundit covered yesterday. While Jack Dorsey’s outfit has deleted some of Trump’s tweets in the past, pasted warnings on others, and even temporarily suspended his account, this was the first time the ban hammer had been swung at a public official in such a forceful and permanent fashion. Their stated reason for doing so was, at best, debatable in terms of any rational justification. Yes, they have rules against promoting violence, but contrary to some of AP’s analysis, I’m hard-pressed to see how that definition was applied in this case.
They cite one tweet saying he won’t attend Biden’s inauguration as “being received by a number of his supporters” as a rejection of the election results or a signal that it would be “safe” to attack the inauguration because he won’t be there to potentially be taken out as collateral damage. They then go on to claim that referring to his supporters as “American Patriots” somehow signals approval of or incitement to violence. Am I the only one rolling my eyes to the point of needing new glasses right now? The people responsible for the violence are the people who made the decision to show up and commit acts of violence. By this definition, every elected official who encouraged people to show up for a Black Lives Matter rally that later devolved into a riot is equally accountable for the arson and looting that followed.
Find the people who have been openly encouraging violence and destruction or bragging about doing it online and kick them off of social media. Actually, go find them and arrest them to boot. But by twisting the words of the President (or anyone else) in this fashion to justify the decision to kick him off the platform, we’re not seeing the exercise of power. This is an abuse of power. Here’s an apt tweet from Legal Insurrection on this subject.
.@twitter's shareholders need to sue @jack and management who are destroying its business model. Twitter was unique as place where all politial sides could interact, that's no longer true. Twitter no longer is Twitter. https://t.co/4kvuOs1aYx
— Legal Insurrection (@LegInsurrection) January 9, 2021
I just wanted to briefly get that off of my chest, but that’s not really the main issue I intended to tackle here. Pulling back to the ten thousand foot level, the real question is how we wound up in a situation where Twitter has acquired the amount of power that it currently wields over public discourse with virtually no accountability for their actions. Being a private company, they are clearly able to run their business as they see fit and deal with the consequences if their users object. The problem is that they are no longer functioning solely as a private company.
As an editorial from the New York Post this weekend points out, many of the President’s tweets can easily be described as being either untrue or “incendiary.” But that applies to many famous people who use Twitter, including the Ayatollah Khamenei, whose account is still active. The problem is that Twitter is operated by liberals who show no appetite for regulating the speech of anyone from their own tribe. The rules are applied almost exclusively to conservatives. And if they won’t apply the rules with an even hand, it’s Twitter that needs to be held accountable. Making matters worse is the fact that Twitter constantly claims to be “just a platform” that’s not responsible for the actions of its users, but they still wield the power to censor whichever users they like.
If Twitter was a private publisher, this would be annoying but unavoidable. But it isn’t. It’s a “platform” that, thanks to Section 230, faces no responsibility for what is tweeted. Twitter gets to censor whomever it likes, but throws up its hands at hate speech and libel with a “not our problem!”
This is untenable. Either Section 230 needs to be repealed, and Twitter must responsibly police who it hosts, or Twitter needs to step back and let the public decide what is acceptable or not.
I’m still not on board with the idea of repealing Section 230, if only because it flies in the face of what Twitter should have been, rather than what it is. I will agree that the situation is untenable. As I’ve written here in the past, Twitter and the other social media platforms should be like a giant, digital version of a corkboard in a college dormitory. They provide the public space and you pin up your content. If someone is putting up post-its containing threats or encouraging violence, don’t sue the corkboard manufacturer. Find the person who put up the note. (Though they can certainly be encouraged to take such content down quickly when it’s brought to their attention.)
Unfortunately, Twitter is playing both sides of the court here. They’re claiming that they are protected under Section 230 so they shouldn’t be responsible for people’s tweets, but they’re blocking tweets and banning accounts anyway, acting as censors that only pay attention to the sins of members of the audience they don’t approve of. Repealing 230 doesn’t end this problem. It only encourages them to do more of it.
So is there a “fix” to make Twitter work as many of us thought it was supposed to? No, there is not. They are a private company and they can operate their business (within the limits of the law) as they see fit. The only fix is to move to Parler or Gab or someplace that suits you better.