On Friday evening, Jack Dorsey finally pulled the plug on Donald Trump and, symbolically, on the use of Twitter to promote the kind of rhetoric that’s served to undermine western democracies for the last five years.
In a notice called “Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump,” the company explained what scarcely needed further explanation.
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them – specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter – we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said, citing a pair of Trump’s Friday tweets.
After years of pretending as though context didn’t matter — as though they somehow couldn’t hear the dog whistle — Twitter’s executives finally stated the obvious. When placed in the context of what they inspire, Trump’s tweets are sometimes an invitation to violence and/or a celebration of violent acts already committed.
“After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that [they] are in violation,” Twitter said, before providing the following point-by-point breakdown:
- President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an “orderly transition” on January 20th.
- The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a “safe” target, as he will not be attending.
- The use of the words “American Patriots” to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol.
- The mention of his supporters having a “GIANT VOICE long into the future” and that “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an “orderly transition” and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.
- Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.
And just like that, @realDonaldTrump will never again tweet.
Twitter will, naturally, pretend the decision was a bold and honorable example of putting principle over profits. In fact, the move was unavoidable considering the circumstances. And it wasn’t just the public backlash. Internal pressure may have played a role too. Earlier Friday, The Washington Post reported that the company’s employees asked Dorsey, in a letter, to take action.
If Twitter and Facebook genuinely cared about enforcing their own rules, Trump would have been banned years ago. And that’s not even a partisan assessment, necessarily. The majority of Trump’s tweets are, by any rational interpretation of Twitter’s rules, a violation.
Importantly, you don’t have to like Twitter’s rules or dislike Trump’s tweets to admit that. Put differently: You can agree with a set of statements (in this case Trump’s tweets) while still acknowledging that they violate a given set of regulations (in this case Twitter’s community conduct guidelines).
Trump tried, unsuccessfully, to strip social media companies of their liability shield before leaving office. He signed an executive order last summer alleging “bias” and went so far as to veto the defense spending bill in a desperate bid to pursue the grudge. Congress overrode him.
Prior to Trump’s ban, Twitter also suspended Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and several other Trump supporters, for promoting QAnon conspiracy theories. Last month, Flynn advocated for martial law in the wake of the election, while Powell was, of course, the loudest voice in the room when it came to promoting unfounded allegations of voter fraud.
While you’ll be subjected to all manner of feigned incredulity from conservatives on Friday evening and throughout the weekend, the fact is, everyone knows why these accounts were banned.
I wrote extensively (and, I’d like to think, eloquently) about this nearly two years ago. I’ll recycle some of the language here, and not just because it’s obviously relevant — rather, because at times like these, when it’s all too easy to churn out cookie cutter copy that amounts to little more than a recitation of Trump’s digital transgressions, I try to provide added value and nuance.
Twitter is immeasurably inimical to public discourse. It’s a digital black hole that tempts otherwise sane people to do silly things, like engage with bots and follow accounts run by outlets and individuals known for the dissemination of misinformation and propaganda. Simply watching other people argue on Twitter has become something of a national pastime — like rubbernecking the aftermath of a car accident on the highway.
Twitter’s role in destroying civility and undermining Americans’ sense of community can’t be overstated. Real discussion is made impossible by design. The expanded character limit (instituted in 2017) added insult to injury — real debate was still impossible, but the space for implicit shrieking, unnecessary punctuation, fire emojis, and cartoon middle fingers was doubled overnight. The latter even come in different skin tones now, which means you can celebrate diversity while making an obscene gesture at someone you’ll never meet.
Twitter is a veritable godsend for anyone (individuals or entities) looking to spread misinformation. That’s one reason Trump was so fond of his account.
The president claimed he needed to tweet so he could “get the word out,” which was true, precisely because the “word” was false.
In April of 2019, Trump, referring to himself in the third person, said “The best thing ever to happen to Twitter is Donald Trump.”
Maybe so. But one of the worst things to ever happen to America was the wedding between the two.
Likely many divorces, Dorsey’s separation from Trump came too late and is bound to be expensive and messy.