In a dangerous and globally distressing affront to free speech, social media giants have blocked President Donald Trump. World leaders, even those who despise the president, are outraged. At least one petty tyrant is jumping for joy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “The chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the U.S. president have now been permanently blocked,” said Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: “I don’t like anybody being censored or taking away from the right to post a message on Twitter or Facebook… I don’t accept that.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “Social media companies must be held accountable for the consistent, transparent, and effective enforcement of their terms and conditions.”
Former South Carolina governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley: “Silencing people, not to mention the president of the United States, is what happens in China, not our country.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, called the ban “authoritarian.” He tweeted: “A world where Maduro (socialist Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro Moros) is on social media, but Trump is suspended cannot be normal.”
Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov — a man who imprisons gays and is known by Human Rights Watch for crimes against humanity: “Now the Almighty God has restored justice.”
Big social media blocked Trump after his unhinged Dec. 6 tirade, in which he spent an entire speech insisting a corrupt election cost him another four years in the White House. After his crowd marched to the Capitol building, at his suggestion, a violent mob broke in and caused the evacuation of the House and Senate. Five people, including a U.S. Capitol police officer, died in the mayhem.
Blocking Trump was not enough for big tech. Google, Apple and Amazon have plotted to destroy the fledgling Parler, known for tolerating conservative views.
The big social media sites are removing and censoring Christian, conservative and pro-Trump individuals and groups for merely expressing opinions unpopular among the left.
This is dangerous, for what should be obvious reasons.
Until the ban, Twitter was Trump’s primary means of public communication. With his posts, the world knew his thoughts and emotions. The public knew who he planned to hire and fire, where he would travel, and what he might say to foreign leaders.
Love or hate Trump, his posts made his leadership usefully transparent. This was good news for people who considered him a threat. No one should want dangerous people plotting in basements, keeping their motives and plans to themselves. We want them marching in the streets, subject to the antiseptic of public exposure.
The United States functions best when people know the views of a wide swath of fellow Americans — whether we like them or not. If we don’t hear opponents, we cannot properly challenge their agendas. By silencing those with views we don’t like, we give them the tactical advantage of cover.
Aside from the stupidity of silencing the president and his supporters, we question the legality of shutting down a Twitter feed the courts tell us belongs squarely to the public.
“The factors pointing to the public, nonprivate nature of the Account (Trump’s) and its interactive features are overwhelming,” says the ruling in Knight First Amendment Inst. v. Trump, decided by The United States Court of Appeals for the Second District.
The court ruled Trump could not block followers because his tweets are public property. The National Archives, the court observed, classifies Trump’s tweets as official public documents.
“Once it is established that the president is a government actor with respect to his use of the account, viewpoint discrimination violates the First Amendment,” the ruling states.
The ruling means a president cannot indulge viewpoint discrimination by banning users. Twitter and Facebook, by contrast, are private businesses and have a per se right to censor content. Maybe.
Each entity operates as a publisher — by censoring content. Unlike traditional publishers, Big Social Media enjoys special government protections from content liability posed by users. They increasingly resemble monopolistic public utilities that should be subject to First Amendment restrictions or left to face traditional liabilities and the burdens of unbridled competition.
In its ruling about the public nature of Trump’s tweets, the court defended free expression of “an extraordinarily broad range of ideas and viewpoints.”
“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” the court said of social media’s rancor.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”
Exactly. Banning users means less speech, not more. It means ignorance festering in darkness, not the enlightenment of information. When monopolized forums pick the same winners and losers, we proceed as a society that cannot see. We resemble a country ruled by tyrants.
The Gazette Editorial Board