Last Wednesday's riot by Trump supporters at the Capitol building in Washington, DC was definitely a low point in an already-awful presidency. While there's been a lot written about its ramifications elsewhere, one of the consequences of this (and on topic for my blog) is social media itself.
Trump's (finally) banned from Twitter
Trump has relied on Twitter as both a bullhorn and as a way around speaking to (or being questioned by) the press. As Trump despises anyone questioning him (thus the "fake news" label he bandies about), and Twitter only allows 280 characters per tweet (thus no need to actually be eloquent), Twitter's been a boon for him. Despite Twitter's own rules against harassment, inciting violence, etc. (such as they are), Trump has kept his Twitter account. As the president, the Donald was deemed too newsworthy/important to fully reign in.
That started to change over the 2020 election, as Twitter finally started to label some of Trump's tweets as containing false information, etc. The labelling increased after Election Day, as Biden's win was repeatedly contested by Trump (against all evidence to the contrary) as "stolen."
After Wednesday's Capitol riot/attack, things escalated. Twitter at first suspended Trump's Twitter account over several tweets the service deemed as supporting the violence. However, by Friday, it escalated to a full fledged ban:
Despite others pointing out Trump (as president) has access to virtually any form of media (television, radio, etc.), he continued to try to use Twitter, in what amounted to an evasion ban. Which, of course, is against Twitter's terms of service. His attempts at using the actual official @POTUS account instead saw that one locked down (two weeks before it was due to be turned over to the incoming Biden administration). Several other Trump related accounts (mostly from his campaign) were also locked down.
Trump's also banned from Facebook, etc.
Twitter's not the only social network to ban the Donald. Other social networks soon followed Twitter's lead and banned Trump or Trump-related material, including:
- Facebook (and Instagram)
- Pinterest (though Trump himself doesn't have an account)
- Reddit (a major pro-Trump subreddit)
Other than YouTube (
as of this writing update: it's suspended for at least a week), Trump's been kicked off of every major online platform. If the Donald wants an online presence, he's mostly stuck doing it the pre-2005 way, i.e. running his own website.
While his supporters are screaming about this "violating free speech," as I've previously written, the US constitution's first amendment applies to the government, not private businesses. Again, Trump's still free to start his own site (say, a blog?) or find some other online service. He's just being shown the door by Facebook and Twitter, much like an unruly restaurant patron that started yelling racist/violent statements.
Of course, for Trump and his base, logic doesn't matter as much as rationalizing selfishness (and the Donald being a sore loser), thus the "election was stolen" mantra. Racism's a major component in their "stolen" complaint, as well. Trump's election platform in 2016 was basically yelling louder than other GOP nominees about brown people—appealing to some White voters hopping mad after eight years of a Black guy in the White House. This year also saw a pandemic-led boost in voting by mail (despite Trump-backed efforts to thwart such), as well as plenty of Black voters (like yours truly) motivated to get Trump out of office. And of course, our new vice president, Kamala Harris, is a biracial woman who'll now be a driving force in Congress instead of Mitch McConnell (via the vice president's power to break Senate tie votes), for extra mouth-foaming by Trump's base.
Parler is offline too
Meanwhile, Parler's also facing problems staying online. For those wondering, Parler is a social network similar to Twitter, but promoting "free speech"/little speech moderation, with a heavily conservative or far-right audience. As such, those annoyed by Facebook and Twitter's usage rules (such as they are) or banned from said social networks have flocked to Parler in recent years.
However, Parler's been reported to have been used by the same rioters that stampeded through the Capitol building. As such, both Apple and Google have dropped the app from their respective app stores. On top of that, Amazon's kicked Parler off of its Amazon Web Services (AWS). (Parler's response as of this writing is to sue Amazon.) And on top of all that, a data leak has exposed virtually every post on the social network, including private messages. Things don't look good for Parler's future.
Why are Twitter, Facebook, etc. taking action now?
Some are wondering why Twitter, Facebook, and the like are taking action now, after years of complaints about said social networks ignoring or not doing enough about hate speech.
Aside from backlash to last week's Capitol building attack, one reason might be the upcoming Biden administration taking office in a little over a week. With the Democrats winning control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency, business regulation is expected to be less lax.
On top of that, the tech companies and social networks are already facing pressure over their business practices from various governments (such as the US and the EU). If avoiding possible government action means (among other things) needing to actually crack down on the type of people who stormed the Capitol building last week, one guess who should be shown the door.