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Trump, Twitter and the Digital Town Hall

The merits are hard to stomach for partisans long jaundiced by presumption and dislike, but the cheer at the deplatforming of Donald Trump by a range of social media platforms said as much about the nature of any sentiment about democracy as it did about those claiming to defend it. For one, it shut off a valve of fantastic, instant recognition to a figure whose thoughts are best aired rather than cellared in underground vats.

But cellaring, hiding, suppressing unsavoury viewpoints are the very things social media platforms are getting more enthusiastic about, much of it pushed on the censorious lobby that claims to have a monopoly on veracity and good behaviour. In the name of misinformation, offence and incitement, users will be either suspended, barred or subjected to digital excommunication in the name of safety.

Which brings us to the fascinating nature of Trump’s latest legal action against Twitter. In January, the former US president was banned from the platform following the January 6th riot at the Capitol building inspired by supporters riled by claims that the election had been stolen. It began as a temporary ban of 12 hours for “repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy.” Two days later, the ban was made permanent. “In the context of the horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would permanently result in this very course of action,” Twitter claimed in its January 8 statement. “The company’s “public interest framework” existed to permit “the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly.” But this role did not exist “above our rules entirely” and could not be used “to incite violence, among other things.”

 

 

The reasoning behind the ban was illuminating of a social media giant sitting in shallow judgment. Two of Trump’s tweets were singled out: one claiming that 75 million “great American patriots who voted for me” would “not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”; the second stating that he would “not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.” Assuming the imperious role of civics guardian, the company strained to identify these mutterings as violating “our Glorification of Violence policy.”

At the time German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the decision “problematic” while Jens Zimmermann, Social Democrat member of the Bundestag, wondered what it meant “for the future actions of social media platforms.”

In July, Trump began his legal battle to seek reinstatement across a range of platforms, filing a class action lawsuit against Google, Twitter and Facebook. “We are demanding an end to the show-banning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and cancelling that you know so well,” he stated at the time.

On October 1, Trump filed a more specific complaint in the Southern District of Florida claiming that Twitter “coerced by members of the United States Congress” was censoring him. The social media platform, the complaint argues, “exercises a degree of power and control over political discourse in this country that is immeasurable, historically unprecedented, and profoundly dangerous to open democratic debate.” With 88 million followers, Trump argued that his account had become “an important source of news and information about government affairs and was a digital town hall.”

The filing also made a pointed remark to Twitter’s somewhat varied approaches to users. Why permit the Taliban, “a known terrorist organization,” room to tweet about their military victories across Afghanistan yet claim that his own efforts had been accused of “glorifying violence.”

Resort was also made to Florida’s social media legislation, the Stop Social Media Censorship Act, which was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis in May to spite “the Silicon Valley elites” only to be blocked two months later by a bemused judge. One of the plaintiffs, Steve DelBianco of the industry group NetChoice, expressed delight at the absurd proposition that the court ruling “ensured that social media can remain family-friendly.” But equally absurd was the law’s idiosyncratic drafting, which included an exemption for companies operating theme parks in Florida. It is likely to perish at the hands of the Federal Appeals Court.

Leaving aside the twaddle put forth by DelBianco, the difficulties of targeting social media platforms are almost insurmountable. Content moderation remains a pillar of using such fora, one guaranteed by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which gives the digital giants platform rather than publisher status. And the sacred First Amendment is assumed to apply to government actions rather than corporate mischief.

The efforts by Trump to place his legal arguments against Big Tech on the hook of the First Amendment has received little support. One mighty voice in the field of jurisprudence thinking Trump has a case is Alan Dershowitz, who has argued that the case “pits freedom of speech on the one hand against the First Amendment on the other.” Such reasoning can well justify why lawyers deserve a bad name, but Dershowitz sees it as the high-tech behemoths quashing free speech. “They are censoring but they’re claiming the right to do so under the First Amendment.”

Withering scorn has been levelled at that view. “Unlike delusional Dershowitz,” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu insisted with smug confidence, “I read the First Amendment and it does not apply to private sector companies.” Laurence Tribe, formerly Carl M. Loeb Professor at Harvard Law School, took a dim view of his former colleague. “How low can a former law professor sink? To call a bogus lawsuit on a fake version of the First Amendment an important case, much less ‘the most important’ of the century? Has he no shame?”

 

 

Democratic strategist Kaivan Shroff, conforming to the fashion of the times, suggested a retributive remedy: the cancellation of Dershowitz’s status as emeritus professor. Harvard Law School had “a professional and ethical responsibility to its community – past, present and future – to associate with faculty who are ethical and have a high regard for the law.”

For all such righteous splutters, Dershowitz and Trump have a point in pointing out a symptom of the US body politic that has become cripplingly apparent: business and the interests of capitalism have come to control speech, its circulation, its distribution. For decades, they had already come to guide politicians and political parties, exercising influence through campaign donations. Why run for elected office when you can buy it?

In 2010, the US Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission found that limits upon “independent political spending” from corporations and private interest groups violated the First Amendment. Those with deep purses could only deem this the natural order of things: if you have cash, spend it to influence opinion in the name of free speech. Put rather simply, such speech was a shield big capitalism could well employ if it needed to. (Rep. Lieu, take note.)

Gore Vidal used to remark that anyone seeking the keys to the White House could only do so with the approval of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Had he lived to see the Trump cancellation saga, he may well have added those Big Tech titans to the sterile committee of electoral approval.

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26 comments

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  1. BB

    “Why run for elected office when you can buy it?” Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?
    With sentiments like these it’s little wonder that honest folk are so fed up with the system.

    Those with money feel entitled to do as they please then, and that’s ok eh.
    The ‘golden rule’ used to mean ‘to treat others as you would like them to treat you’.
    Now it means for those with lots of gold that they try to change, hijack the rules to suit themselves eh.

    I’m glad that Trump was barred, it’s not censorship when a person is found out to be a blatant liar.
    Trump needs to be impeached again, found guilty and barred from public office for life.

    Biden had 306 total electoral votes. Trump only got 232 votes. Biden won by 74 electoral votes
    Biden got 81,284,000 votes (51.3%)
    Trump got 74,221,000 votes (46.9%).

    Biden WON the USA election by 74 electoral votes, over 7 million people’s votes.
    51.3% is a majority.

    Trump is still pushing his BIG LIE that he had the election stolen by fraud..
    Trump is a fraud, a bully, and a very ugly person..

  2. leefe

    Are there issues with censorship of news, information and opinion? Yes.

    Is Trump’s banning (by a private company which has no obligation to provide a platform for anyone) an example of such a problem? Not on your Nelly.

  3. Michael Taylor

    I say keep him off Twitter and Facebook. He used them as a platform to encourage violence.

    As a complete aside, Trump used GoDaddy (as does this site) as the web hosts for his blog site. GoDaddy, bless ‘em, closed it down.

  4. Roswell

    More important than keeping him off social media is keeping him from ever again taking up residence in the White House.

  5. BB

    Roswell, that Trump wasn’t barred from holding public office for life is an American miscarriage of justice.
    He was impeached twice with zero conviction. Talk about FUBAR. The problem lies with the idiotic reps.
    To think Trump could in some freak scenario make a come back is beyond surreal.

  6. Michael Taylor

    Roswell/BB, I thought he’d be in prison by now. All the chatter about him being charged for this and that after leaving office might have been nothing than a bag of wind.

    BB, yep, the GOP rolled over on both impeachments.

  7. Phil Pryor

    Trump is and always was a lying bag of excremental stench, and one would not want to be near it, see it, sell anything to it, support it, touch it. How can a log of shit claim rights? Decency? Integrity? …Just permanently flush the big log of shit and remove it…

  8. Michael Taylor

    Phil, and the sooner he’s flushed away the better.

  9. Mark

    Re:

    cellaring, hiding, suppressing unsavoury viewpoints are the very things social media platforms are getting more enthusiastic about, much of it pushed on the censorious lobby that claims to have a monopoly on veracity and good behaviour.

    Indeed! And while one might have little or no sympathy for the Trumps of this world, one should also have concerns that there is no articulated, analysed or clarified principle(s) underpinning such reactions.

    Then again it’s the emotions (the metaphorical heart) which determines voting behavior and not rationality (the metaphorical head).

    Labor would understand that.

  10. Fred

    Jan 6 2010 is now engraved in history as an insurrection incited by “unca” Donald. More than “flushed away”, why he’s not in prison defies logic.

  11. Fred

    Oops, don’t be having a conversation with somebody else while leaving a comment – did mean 2021.

  12. BB

    Poor old Trumpy eh, even with a few peeled white onions tears would not be possible… 😁 🤣 😎

    BTW, Washington post is a pay wall, one can go to Forbes by direct link
    https://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/

    But it’s interesting to see the names that are on it..

    No 1, Jeff Bezos, $201 Billion US, FFS!, a face so smug and smirk one could easily grind broken glass into it..

    The Farcebook Kid is at No 3, $134.5 Billion US.

    Referring to the aftermath of the 6 January storming of the Capitol, as protesters sought to overturn the US presidential election result, Haugen said she was disturbed that Facebook had to “break the glass” and reinstate safety settings that it had put in place for the November poll. Haugen, who worked for the Facebook team that monitored election interference globally, said those precautions had been dropped after Joe Biden’s victory in order to spur growth on the platform.

    Senator Ed Markey said Congress would take action. “Here’s my message for Mark Zuckerberg: your time of invading our privacy, promoting toxic content in preying on children and teens is over,” Markey said. “Congress will be taking action. We will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and our democracy, any longer.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/oct/05/facebook-harms-children-damaging-democracy-claims-whistleblower

    All is well in the world of 🐀s..

  13. John O'Callaghan

    I am no fan of Trump or Biden, they are both psychopaths and both totally corrupt as each other along with the majority of politicians in the US and around the world…… but banning them from social media platforms just because you dont agree with their politics is insane and utterly counter productive,…. and will come back to bite us all in the end. ……………. So you lot obviously support the censorship and illegal imprisonment of Julian Assange for doing his job exposing hideous war crimes including cold blooded murder of women and children and men by the US evil empire along with Australia and the rest of the US\lackey\boot lickers? ….. Well of course you dont but by supporting censorship and free speech that is exactly what you are doing……… It’s like that famous piece about “First they came for the communist but i did not speak out”….. we all know the rest…. Genuine intelligent non threatening progressive social media sites and shows are been shut down and censored as we speak for the same reason they nobbled Assange and many others……. simply for telling the truth to the people who are being lied to and worse on a daily basis………………. Wake up people!… if you dont then eventually they will come for You! and Me and All of us… Look around!….. it is already happening… Censorship lives in darkness.. i myself prefer sunlight as it allows me to see who or what is threatening my liberty and way of life!

  14. BB

    @John O’Callaghan.

    Oh dear, you’re angry, well ok, good, we all are, but please direct it sensibly, not at us “lot” here in a random spray of hatred.

    When somebody, anybody, especially such as a PM, President, Leader, King or Queen, (in this case a bs Trump), is knowingly and wantonly lying through their teeth, inciting promoting violence mayhem and murder, then it’s not censorship to attempt to stop them, and in the case of twitter to bar them from the ability to do so, but it is paramount, it is incumbent upon honest folk to do so.

    Biden and Trump are not the same.. utter nonsense, far from it. You are conflating fact with your opinions and emotions.
    You have dragged into your “argument” unrelated events and use them to justify your anger and pissed off thoughts..

    Yes some social sites need to be brought into line, aspects of the internet are like the wild west used to be, but they will be, Facebook is such a one, but it’s happening, slowly but it’s happening, they have their place, social media is here to stay and is a good thing, but like everywhere some take advantage till brought into line.. We live in an imperfect world John, everything has some aspect that could do with improvement.. I wish it were not so, there is enough for us all, but mankind is a greedy animal.

    I doubt anyone here at AIM condones what’s happening to Julian, most of us are supporting and trying to get him out of jail.

    Biden is a career politician, tries to be honest, but at times has his hands tied in trying to compromise and please all sides.

    Trump is just a crook, a very crafty and dangerous one, who couldn’t give a rat’s arse about anything or anyone that does not benefit him. He has filled the swamp, not drained it. He has filled it with his cronies and family. Nepotism and bullshit. He is mad with power and refuses to let go with his BIG LIE that the election, the presidency was stolen from him..

    In Trumps mind he is never wrong, it is everybody else that is wrong.
    Trump is indeed a psychopath, narcissist, crook, bully, thug, a truly evil and wicked person…
    Never ever to be trusted. Don’t turn your back to him.
    He belongs in jail, not in the White House.

  15. leefe

    John:

    I can think of one major difference between Assange and Trump: Assange was revealing facts; Trump was lying.
    It’s not about politics. It’s about truth.

  16. John O'Callaghan

    I did not accuse anyone on this site of not supporting Assange, i said by supporting censorship you give the impression that you dont… so the first thing you have to do is learn how to read and interpret a comment without letting your out of control bias and TDS…. :Trump Derangement Syndrome” consume your life…………….. You dont see the irony in your response to my comment do you?… … You are trying to censor me which just reinforces my original comment on the dangers of censorship………. And as for Joe Biden….., if you and others like you would stop, do some homework and really take a look at his political career you will discover that in reality he is not what the corrupt MSM make him out to be……………. I dont need a lecture or patronising gratuitous advice from you or anybody else on this site as i am quite capable believe me of forming my own opinions…… I dont accept the crap that CNN…..ABC…. The Guardian or other corrupt media who were happy to publish information from Assange to make a profit then threw the poor bastard under the bus to appease their yankee war mongering pay masters!………………… So let me see what’s going on here!…. Unless i have the same opinion as you and most other people on this site then i will be ostracised and admonished for not following the “Directive” …… …. Good god man this site is called The Australian “Independent” Media Network is it not? ……,…… It sounds like you would rather call it the Australian “Follow The Collective Media Network! ………….. You see the idea of a fantastic site like this that we all get to give our own opinions on things…… i respect yours and all opinions on this site…. i may not agree with all of them…… But isnt that the whole idea of free speech which must include no censorship! ….

  17. Fred

    BB Interesting read, but if the DOJ truly is protecting Trump on the effective basis of “we can’t handle the truth” then democracy in the USA has broken down.

  18. BB

    Indeed Fred, but it hasn’t broken down yet, but it is on life support, hanging on by the skin of it’s teeth..
    The main problem with the US political scene is the GOP.. and the stupid senate filibuster.
    and also everybody seems to have a dirt file on everybody…

  19. BB

    Have a good day John. 😎

  20. John O'Callaghan

    Ha Ha i always have a good day BB old son…. oops! you’d better hurry!.. dont you have to go and attend your flock? …..baa…baa…baa….

  21. leefe

    John:

    Please show us where this supposed censorship is; show us where someone has tried to prevent you expressing your opinions.
    Disagreeing with you – or anyone else, Trump included – is not censorship. It is part and parcel of healthy debate.

  22. GL

    John,

    Childish, very very childish. Go and get your mummy to give you a bottle and put you in your cot for a nap.

  23. Fred

    BB If you take one of the corner stones and subvert it, doesn’t it mean the system is broken?

    The DOJ Mission Statement (from: https://www.justice.gov/about):
    “To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”

    WRT to unca Donald, it doesn’t seem to be “fair and impartial” rather NO justice. (Just saying)

  24. BB

    Aye Fred,
    Trump has indeed attempted to subvert, but has not succeeded, so at present the system still functions, if but on crutches.
    We can play around with semantics, but reality on the ground is that if the system was truly broken there would be anarchy.
    I don’t think it has quite reached that stage… yet… Here’s hoping it does not, seriously what would happen if it did?
    I don’t think the US could just confine itself to a civil war, do you? Who else would seek to take advantage around the world of such disorder and mayhem in the US? How many other wannabe “Trumps” would emerge from the shadows where they are presently lurking? However much we dislike the US, and they are mongrels, that’s for sure, what type of world order would ensue? 😱

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