Twitter and other social media giants were right in banning former President Trump, argues Ayodele Okunfolami
Google-owned YouTube joined its Silicon Valley neighbours that had earlier given a form of ban or deferral to outgone President of United States of America, Donald Trump’s social media accounts. YouTube placed a suspension that saw Donald Trump unable to post a video for the week leading to the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
Although it is his permanent suspension from the microblogging social media platform, Twitter, that is most talked about and polarizing frankly, what Trump thing is not controversial? This particular ban has not only questioned Big Tech’s right to trample on free speech but also their guts to off the mic of the most powerful man in the world.
Though conspiracies existed even before the anti-masonic age, Trumpian times tossed us into the Golden Age of conspiracy theories where cheap sentiments prevailed over common sense. Because conspiracy theories answer people’s psychological need, the virtual world of social media becomes an escape for them. It is also an era where distrust for mainstream media and corporate institutions grew to cancerous proportions. All Trump needed was to soar and try to sustain power on the growing disgruntlement fueled by rising unemployment, widening inequalities, changing demography, migrant crisis, far-right discontent, and social injustice.
So after branding conventional media “Fake News”, Trump resorted to Twitter where his more than 57,000 tweets could reach his base and the world without the censors of a biased editor working to please his paymaster. Besides serving as an amplification avenue for his misleading untruths, this unorthodox means of state communication served Twitter as well. It drove tremendous traffic towards it to its profiting. And it is this commercial success that made it tolerate a lot of Trump’s exaggerations and superlatives as it is currently doing with other far right leaders like Narendra Modi of India and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil who are as divisive and also command huge markets.
Now do social media giants have the right to suspend or block outright the accounts of their customers? The answer is a big YES. First, every service has terms and conditions, and if any service provider has these terms and conditions, it is the media. From strict time limit for call-ins, to blurring of disturbing scenes, to blipping of swear words, to restricting adult scenes to nocturnal hours, the media has over time found a way of managing freedom of expression, viewer discretion, and respect for the laws of the land.
Secondly, we all impatiently don’t read those lengthy bogus terms and conditions that can only be understood by lawyers and just click “I accept” to get logged on social media. It is the breach of those terms and conditions that made Twitter leave @realDonaldTrump in the dark. In fact, several nobodies without verified seals are seeing their respective social media accounts blocked or suspended and heaven doesn’t fall. For example, several members of QAnon have seen their Facebook accounts blocked since August last year while many other YouTubers are blocked because they violated copyright laws in their broadcast.
So Donald Trump should even be grateful that Twitter tolerated his excesses long enough before his posts started becoming irredeemably toxic to the public. And the red card didn’t come without previous yellows. From the time he encouraged Americans to do awkward things like drinking disinfectants in order to fight coronavirus, to his unproven claims that he won the elections, Twitter occasionally flagged those misleading tweets for public safety. Even some news networks in America stopped covering him live so as not to serve as channels for his inaccuracies which are usually harder to undo once consumed by the gullible viewer.
Even though social media is unregulated for now, the various concerns by the United States Congress and the European Union has made them self-regulatory in a way. They have programmed their respective algorithms not just for targeted ads for individual users, but also to prevent posts they consider dangerous to the public from going viral. Facebook in fact flags posts as false information after failing its independent fact-checkers’ test. But with 88 million followers and multiples of retweets and shares that would come after in exponential degrees, Twitter and other social media giants had no other option but to place embargoes on Trump’s accounts.
By the way, these Big Techs, are the richest companies in the history of mankind and have the largest subscription base than any President in the world. Big techs have digital footprints of all their customers and track them with every click to manipulate them to achieve electoral, ideological or business goals while the thumbprint that brought the politician to power dries up in four years. This answers the question of whether they are bigger than the occupant of the White House who gets less than 100 million votes for only a maximum of eight years to preside over only a fraction of the world. The world Trump and his supporters are refusing to live in is one that leaders work with the media and not the media working with leaders. That is why it is Australia that would be the loser if Google chooses to pull out of the country because of the recent laws to stifle the search engine.
Then the timing of the ban. The riotous invasion of the Capitol by a mob incited by Trump at the twilight of his presidency was just the perfect time to pull the trigger on his social media accounts. The invasion was treasonable, there was fear of what next could come from Trumpoverse, democracy (which is the bedrock of free enterprise that produced the Internet) was threatened, and Trump’s political influence had diminished. Meanwhile, it wasn’t only tech companies that gave Trump the hammer. Several other brands took advantage to break ties with everything Trump. Terms and conditions apply, you would say.
In conclusion, while some may find hypocrisy and inconsistencies in Twitter’s actions, enterprises in their quest to be socially responsible have stripped celebrities that front their respective brands because of perceived homophobia, racism, human rights abuse and other image launderers. Twitter just did the same to Trump, the only thing Jack Dorsey and his board could have done was to have legitimized Trump’s “covfefe” before turning his lights off.
––Okunfolami wrote from