It’s a Dangerous Precedent to Ban a Dangerous President

Unaccountable tech billionaires are not moral arbiters

“If those who control the media control the minds of the masses (to quote Malcolm X), it’s important for us to think seriously about who we give that power to.” — Caroline Caldwell (Artist)

As you know, on Wednesday 6 January 2021, a mob of pro-Trump supporters invaded the US Capitol building in Washington DC, angry about the alleged (and highly contested) “election fraud” as Congress moved to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the November ’20 election. [1]

It was one of the worst security breaches in American history and shocked the nation to its freedom-loving, democratic core.

In the aftermath, many blamed President Trump directly, saying he’d whipped up anger and doubt in the electoral system and some claim he even instructed people to invade the Capitol building.

In his speech before the riots, Trump said:If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” and said they need to “stop the steal” though went on to tweet, as the incident unfolded, “No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order” and then posted the subsequent video of himself asking his supports to “go home” and said, “we don’t want anybody hurt.” [2]

By the evening of the incident, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube had already deleted Trump’s video calling for calm. [3] [4]

Five people wound up dead and there have been over 80 arrests so far, including some rioters who appeared in now-iconic photos — sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk and waving whilst stealing her lectern for example. [5]

Whilst this is undoubtedly a moment of existential and political crisis for America, they must deal with healing these divisions alone.

For the rest of us, I suggest the most concerning consequence of the riots is the blanket social media ban of Donald Trump (and his various acolytes) that unfolded directly after the rioting.

Social Media as Your Self-Appointed Moral Compass

People continuously point out social media companies are privately owned and funded, therefore have a right to accept who they wish onto their platforms; an argument that perhaps stood true in 2007, but today, social media is not simply private enterprise in action, they are more akin to public utilities, used by all.

Can the phone company ban you for your political views? Can the water and electric companies refuse service because of your beliefs?

Perhaps you’d suggest they can. After all, who’d want to give a phone line and electricity to a dangerous terrorist planning a bombing? Whilst that in itself is a debate, we’re not talking about a terrorist, we’re talking about a democratically elected President and leader of the free world.

At what point are we happy to accept unaccountable tech billionaires becoming our moral arbiters?

People will say Trump hasn’t been de-platformed. This, of course, is always a misnomer. Banning him from every social media service means his reach — even as President — is vastly reduced and millions of people will no longer receive his message. By banning Trump they’re banning people from what they can and can’t hear — what they will and will not hear.

Furthermore, the ban extends to much pro-Trump discourse online. Even his supporters are being gagged.

At what point does Mark Zuckerberg (for example) — who is the unelected, unaccountable CEO and Chairman of a multinational conglomerate that controls 2.7 billion people’s communication, through Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp — decide what messages from an elected President are and are not acceptable for us to hear or see?

As mentioned, the idea of the phone company cutting your service because they don’t like what you said is ludicrous, but Zuckerberg has a stranglehold on the conversations of nearly half the world’s population, way more than a telephone company could ever dream of, and we’re happy he’s making moral arbitration on our behalf?

On the left of the political spectrum — at least in the UK — there is still a lot of hate and anger reserved for newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch. As recently as September 2020, Extinction Rebellion blocked access to three printing presses owned by his media organisation in a bid to stop his papers hitting the newsstands. [5]

Where then, I ask, is the same outrage reserved for the new white, billionaire media moguls? Murdoch printed papers with views not liked by everyone, but Jack Dorsey (Twitter) or Mark Zuckerberg not only have far wider-reaching influence than Murdoch’s old-world printing presses had, but they can also actually ban and censor conversations and people, including elected officials. Which of course, they have done.

There has been a disappointing amount of kickback against Trump’s across-the-board ban. And it really is across the board. As of the time of writing, Trump and pro-Trump accounts, have been banned or severely restricted from Discord, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, Shopify (Trump’s official merch), Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch and YouTube. [6]

This is a standing President of a democratic, free nation. It’s staggering this move was made and even more staggering that by law, it’s allowed.

The Rubicon has now been crossed. Social media companies are now emboldened, a new, dangerous precedent has been set.

It seems Twitter are even violating their old ethos to never ban political leaders. In a 2018 blog post they wrote: “There’s been a lot of discussion about political figures and world leaders on Twitter, and we want to share our stance. Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation. Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” [7]

Be in no doubt, if Dorsey and co. understand they can pull off Trump’s ban with impunity, they can do anything. They practically do anyway. Zuckerberg has also reneged on his promise to not scrape information from Whatsapp by changing their terms and conditions this week, now forcing all users to share phone status, location ISPs and various other information. [8]

These are not trustworthy organisations.

Social media has escape regulation thus far by claiming they are merely a platform, even though for the longest time they have acted as curators of content, editors of content and push their own political agendas. Zuckerberg freely admitted Silicon Valley is an “extremely left-leaning place” when questioned by the Senate. [9]

I truly believe there will be a day — an incident, some sort of catalyst — when everyone realises big tech dictating who has and hasn’t got a platform is severely problematic. We will then scrabble around, after the damage is already done, to try and even the playing field, to try and regain balance from these tech giants and their super powerful billionaire CEOs.

Unfortunately, until that point, people will still cheer when a handful of elitist media moguls act as your self-appointed moral compass with zero accountability.

Between two skies and towards the night.

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