Twitter locked Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) campaign account, @TeamMitch, on the grounds it violated its rules not to post violent threats. Except, as McConnell’s camp has pointed out, they were broadcasting news that there were death threats against him, not the other way around — the latter is presumably the reason such a rule was created.
But rules are rules, and Twitter has recently signaled that it’s trying to be more responsive to how fringe groups use its platform for divisive rhetoric, even if it means calling out big players. Twitter announced in the summer that it is adding labels to tweets by national political figures such as Trump who break its rules. (Normally Twitter would take down offending tweets, but officials said it “has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the tweet to remain available.”)
Since well before the summer, fringe figures on the Internet (many of them conservative) have been regularly accusing social media companies of being biased against them. Conservatives in Congress have taken up their mantle, and Trump is their biggest spokesman.
So it's no surprise that Team Trump jumped right into this McConnell-Twitter feud. A day after McConnell's account was frozen, Trump's campaign said it would stop buying ads on Twitter. The top three Republican election groups — the Republican National Committee and Republicans' House and Senate campaign arms — followed.
Here's the director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee:
#MassacreMitch was a popular hashtag the days after the El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, mass shootings, meant to highlight how McConnell has refused to take up gun-control legislation passed by the House.
McConnell’s camp argued that the hashtag amounted to violent threats against him. They posted the video of a protester on camera in front of his house in Kentucky yelling “Just stab the m----- f----- in the heart, please.” And “Die!” (The new hashtag followed days of his critics using the nickname “Moscow Mitch” for not bringing up bipartisan election-security bills.)
McConnell’s Twitter problem was already a national story, but Trump jumping in made it even bigger. It makes political sense that Trump would seek out a fight with social media companies. These companies, largely located in liberal Silicon Valley, are increasingly moderating the political debate. Campaigns advertise on them. Advocates coordinate on them. Russia tries to interfere in elections on them.
Accusing these powerful corporations of having it out for conservatives fits neatly with Trump’s overarching, populist narrative that the upper echelons of American society have it out for him and his supporters. He’s not just trying to drain the government swamp; he’s trying to take on big corporations, as well.
Trump has gone so far as to suggest that the U.S. government sue Google and Facebook. He even recently accused Google of trying to rig its search results to cause him to lose in the 2020 presidential election. “A lot of bad things are happening,” he said at a social media summit at the White House in July with some of the Internet’s most controversial and conservative actors. (It was a gathering that the Southern Poverty Law Center described as “a hate summit at the White House.”)
Twitter, Facebook and Google strenuously deny any partisanship in how they built their platforms and how their algorithms process content. Conservatives point to “selective” bans over who has violated its policies and the scandal over their curated headlines as proof of bias within the companies.
Now, to the extent he wants to, Trump can point to Twitter freezing a prominent account for the most prominent senator — for an admittedly perplexing reason — to make his case that social media companies apply the rules unfairly to conservatives.