The importance, and incoherence, of Trump's Twitter ban

If the Constitution provides a way to remove a sitting President from office under extenuating circumstances, then there must be a way to remove a sitting President from the Internet. Twitter was right to ban Trump—I think the ban should have come years ago, when Trump started repeatedly flouting the platform’s rules—but my confidence in this opinion shouldn’t be mistaken for a glib assumption that an action of this magnitude can come without downside risk. The hard questions are hard precisely because there are no good answers, only bad ones and worse ones. “No problem that landed on my desk, foreign or domestic, had a clean, 100 percent solution,” Barack Obama writes in “A Promised Land,” a book whose phlegmatic tone is almost shocking against the backdrop of the present chaos. One of many differences between Obama and Jack Dorsey is that the problems Obama faced during his Presidency—an American sailor held hostage by Somali pirates, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the war in Syria—were not problems of his own making. If it weren’t for Jack Dorsey and a few of his buddies, though, Twitter wouldn’t exist. They created it from nothing, invented its deeply flawed mechanics and its perverse incentive structures, spent years encouraging as many people as possible to devote as much time and attention to it as possible, and then, essentially, washed their hands of it and walked away. The horrific optics of January 6th were enough to shock Twitter and other platforms into action. But any ban, no matter how prominent, is still a relatively superficial intervention, because it doesn’t change the platform’s underlying architecture. Jack Dorsey often muses publicly about how he might improve “conversational health” on his platform: by diminishing or eliminating the importance of such metrics as retweets and follower counts; by introducing significant friction to make disinformation less likely to go viral; by rebuilding his company’s algorithms from the ground up. A few of these ideas have been implemented, in part, but most of them, so far, have been little more than talk.