Trump, Twitter and the digital town hall
The merits are hard to digest for supporters long yellowed by presumption and aversion, but the acclaim elicited by Donald Trump’s deformity by a series of social media platforms speaks volumes about the nature of all sentiment about democracy. than on those who claim to defend this. On the one hand, he closed a fantastic and instantaneous recognition valve to a character whose thoughts are better ventilated rather than cellared in underground vats.
But hiding, hiding, suppressing unsavory views are the things social media platforms are getting more and more enthusiastic about, largely driven by the censor lobby who claims to have a monopoly on truthfulness and good behavior. In the name of disinformation, offense and incitement, users will either be suspended, banned, or subjected to digital ex-communication in the name of security.
Which brings us to the fascinating nature of Trump’s latest legal action against Twitter. In January, the former US president was banned platform following the Jan.6 riot on Capitol Hill, inspired by supporters annoyed by allegations the election was stolen. It started with a temporary 12-hour ban for “repeated and serious violations of our civic integrity policy.” Two days later, the ban was made permanent. “In the context of the horrific events of this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that further violations of Twitter’s rules would permanently result in this same course of action,” Twitter claimed in his January 8 statement. The company’s “public interest framework” existed to allow “the public to hear directly from elected officials and world leaders.” But this role did not exist “entirely above our rules” and could not be used “to incite violence, among other things”.
The reasoning behind the ban lit up a social media giant sitting in superficial judgment. Two of Trump’s tweets were distinguished: one claiming that 75 million “great American patriots who voted for me” would not be “disrespectful or treated unfairly in any way !!!” ; the second declaring that he “would not go to the inauguration on January 20”. Assuming the compelling role of civic guardian, the company has endeavored to identify these whispers as violating “our policy of glorifying violence.”
At the time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the “problematic” decision as Jens Zimmermann, a social democratic member of the Bundestag, wondered what it meant “for the future actions of social media platforms”.
In July, Trump started his legal battle to request his reinstatement across a range of platforms, filing a class action lawsuit against Google, Twitter and Facebook. “We demand an end to the shadow ban, an end to the silence and an end to the blacklisting, banning and cancellation that you know so well”, he stated at the time.
On October 1, Trump filed a more specific complaint in the Southern District of Florida, claiming that Twitter “coerced by members of the United States Congress” was censoring him. The social media platform, argues the complaint, “wields a degree of power and control over political discourse in this country that is immeasurable, historically unprecedented and deeply dangerous for opening a democratic debate.” With 88 million followers, Trump argued that his account had become “a major source of news and information on government affairs and was a digital town hall.”
The dossier also made a pointed point about Twitter’s somewhat varied approaches to users. Why allow the Taliban, “a known terrorist organization”, to tweet about their military victories across Afghanistan while claiming that its own efforts have been accused of “glorifying violence”.
Resort has also been subject to Florida’s social media law, the Stop Social Media Censorship Act, which has been promulgated by Governor Ron DeSantis in May to upset “the elites of Silicon Valley” only to be blocked two months later by a bemused judge. One of the complainants, Steve DelBianco of the industry group NetChoice, expressed his joy to the absurd proposition that the court ruling “ensured that social media can remain family friendly.” But equally absurd was the idiosyncratic wording of the law, which included an exemption for companies operating theme parks in Florida. It is likely to perish at the hands of the Federal Court of Appeal.
Leaving aside the gossip put forward by DelBianco, the difficulties of targeting social media platforms are almost insurmountable. Content moderation remains a pillar of the use of such forums, a pillar guaranteed by Article 230 of the Communications Decency Act which gives digital giants the status of platform rather than publisher. And the Holy First Amendment is supposed to apply to government actions rather than corporate misdeeds.
Trump’s efforts to oppose his legal arguments Great technology on the hook of the First Amendment received little support. A powerful voice in the field of jurisprudence thinks Trump has a case is Alan Dershowitz, who argued that the case “pits freedom of expression on the one hand against the First Amendment on the other”. Such reasoning may well justify why lawyers deserve a bad reputation, but Dershowitz sees it as high-tech juggernauts nullifying free speech. “They censor but they claim the right to do so under the First Amendment.”
Overwhelming contempt has been brought to this opinion. “Unlike the delusional Dershowitz,” Democratic Representative Ted Lieu insisted with sufficient confidence, “I have read the First Amendment and it does not apply to private sector companies.” Laurence Tribe, formerly Professor Carl M. Loeb at Harvard Law School, took a dim view of his former colleague. “How far can a former law professor sink?” Call a mock trial over a false version of the First Amendment an important matter, let alone “the most important” of the century? Is he not ashamed?
Democratic strategist Kaivan Shroff, in line with the fashion of the time, suggested a punitive remedy: the annulment of Dershowitz’s status as professor emeritus. Harvard Law School had “a professional and ethical responsibility to its community – past, present and future – to partner with faculty who are ethical and have a high regard for the law.”
For all these fair stammerings, Dershowitz and Trump are right to point out a symptom of the American body politic that has become paralyzing evidence: corporations and the interests of capitalism have come to control speech, its circulation, its distribution. For decades they had already come to guide politicians and political parties, exerting influence through campaign donations. Why run for office when you can buy it?
In 2010, the United States Supreme Court’s decision to Citizens United v Federal Election Commission find that the limits on “independent political spending” by corporations and private interest groups violated the First Amendment. Those with large purses can only take this as the natural order of things: if you have the money, spend it to influence opinion in the name of free speech. Simply put, such speech was a shield that big capitalism could well use if it needed to. (Rep. Place, take note.)
Gore Vidal used to remark that anyone looking for the keys to the White House could only do so with the approval of Chase Manhattan Bank. If he had lived to see Trump’s cancellation saga, he could very well have added these Big Tech titans to the sterile election approval committee.
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