The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Yes, we’re fed up with Trump. But aren’t we better off knowing what he’s thinking?

President Trump boards Air Force One in Harlingen, Tex., on Tuesday.
President Trump boards Air Force One in Harlingen, Tex., on Tuesday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

We’ve come a long way from the days when social media was largely viewed as a positive development that boosted access and participation in the realm of mass communications. Anyone and everyone could have a voice and access to an audience.

President Trump recognized the value of being able to reach his base without the filter of the mainstream media — that is, without fact-checkers, follow-up questions or editorial comments. Until recently, when Twitter began qualifying his tweets with explanatory notes, the various platforms served him well.

So much for all that. In the wake of last week’s breach of the U.S. Capitol, these social media titans have shut down the president of the United States.

Both Twitter and Facebook have blocked Trump indefinitely. Amazon, which owns the gaming streaming site Twitch, disabled Trump’s channel indefinitely. Meanwhile, Apple and Amazon have dropped Parler, a platform similar to Twitter but without the moderating interference of third-party moderators and editorial boards. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)

In some respects — and surely to millions of people fed up with Trump — these censorial actions come as a relief. Not only were some of his postings intentionally misleading, but many were potentially dangerous. Some would say demonstrably so. His repeated claims to have won the 2020 election and that the election was “stolen” from him may not have directly caused the riots that resulted in five people’s deaths, but they can’t be considered unrelated, either.

Follow Kathleen Parker's opinionsFollow

We know enough about Trump to know that he needs the spotlight, no matter the context. A riot may be a bad thing for the country, but it feels like a good thing if you’re a sore loser with an insatiable appetite for attention and an attraction to chaos. Trump’s encouragement of the protesters, and a false promise to march down Pennsylvania Avenue with them, weren’t exactly throwing sand on a fire.

Call me crazy, but isn’t it better to know what Trump is thinking — and what his minions are plotting — than to force them into hiding? Blocking their conversation from the public square is about as effective as plugging your ears and singing tra-la-la-la-la-la-la. I’ve always viewed social media like the insect world: Just because you can’t see or hear them doesn’t mean they’re not busy.

Thus, when we force the insurgency underground, we don’t eliminate it. We merely condemn its members to the shadows where resentment festers and morphs into even darker shades of anger and hatred. I’d rather endure annoying tweets and hostile insults than not know who my enemies are or what they’re planning next. Effectively, we eliminate some of our best intelligence about groups’ plans to arm themselves and descend on every state capitol on Inauguration Day.

Nor does the absence of social media disarm anyone. During the 1960s civil-rights and antiwar movements, millions of people converged in cities across the country without the aid of cellphones and laptops. Does anyone really think that the people behind last week’s jackass rodeo can’t pull it off again without Twitter or Facebook?

In times of uncivil discourse, it may make us feel virtuous to separate ourselves from society’s coarser elements. It may seem entirely fair to uninvite people who abuse basic rules of decorum or have no devotion to objective truth.

One could even argue that Twitter and Facebook are providing a valuable public service by blocking objectionable, seditionist speech — an act of responsible citizenship that isn’t the same as when government imposes limitations to suppress individual liberty.

Admittedly, giant social media companies can often seem like quasi-governmental entities by virtue of their power to decide which speech is acceptable — or that serves their own political purposes. This, too, is troubling.

But more troubling is this likely truth: Trump will leave the White House on Jan. 20. But having raised more than $200 million since the election, he won’t be silenced for long. Nor is his base going away. Not all of them were part of the fracas, we should remind ourselves. Thus, the better part of prudence, it seems, would be to invite everyone out into the open and let them talk. It can’t hurt to listen — and I hate surprises.

Read more from Kathleen Parker’s archive, follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Social media is finally pulling the plug on Trump. We still must fight the lies.

Max Boot: Republicans usually revere the free market. Now, they’re cursing it.

The Post’s View: Parler deserved to be taken down. We still need new rules for the Internet.

Fred Hiatt: Trump’s and Hawley’s free-speech rights are perfectly intact. But the senator has half a point.

Daniella Greenbaum: The social media mob is a danger to society

Bruce Ackerman and Gerard Magliocca: Impeachment won’t keep Trump from running again. Here’s a better way.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. In what was likely its final hearing, the committee issued a surprise subpoena seeking testimony from former president Donald Trump. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? Committee chair Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said the committee will make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, though no decision has been made on the target of a referral.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.