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.
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.