Twitter has permanently suspended now former U.S. President Donald Trump’s account as of January 8th, 2021, citing an “incitement of violence” risk, according to Reuters. This comes after violent insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6th, where many of Trump’s supporters rioted in objection to the certification of then President-Elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Trump’s account had more than 88 million followers at the time of its suspension.
In a statement posted to the company’s blog, Twitter said that “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 has historically been Trump’s favored public outlet, where he often made his political views known and at times announced policy decisions through tweets without consultation from his aides or advisors. This has been especially true since Joe Biden won the presidential election in November 2020 and Trump took to Twitter to repeatedly reject the election results, claiming that there was widespread voter fraud and that it was him that truly won the election—all claims that have been concretely disproven. Reuters reports that Trump also used Twitter to encourage his supporters to march on the Capitol in order to protest the election results. Twitter’s suspension of Trump marks the first time the company has banned a head of state from using their platform.
Following Twitter’s indefinite ban of Trump’s account, many other social media platforms followed suit, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Reddit, and Twitch who all banned Trump from their services as well, according to The Washington Post. These moves have garnered praise from many people who say Trump’s suspension from these sites is long overdue. However, many of Trump’s supporters have expressed outrage, calling the bans acts of censorship that violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Donald Trump’s bans from these large social media sites marks the largest de-platforming of a world leader and public figure in history, and it raises many questions, one being the validity of the accusations by Trump’s supporters that Twitter and other platforms are violating the U.S.’s First Amendment which ensures freedom of speech. Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor and Dean of Berkeley Law, told ABC News that the First Amendment is not applicable to the issue of suspending Trump’s accounts because it is meant to protect people from being silenced by the government, not corporations like Twitter or Facebook. “A private company, no matter how large, does not have to comply with the First Amendment. Facebook and Twitter can suspend who they want and there is no First Amendment issue,” Chemerinsky said.
Whether or not social media giants like Twitter or Facebook should have the amount of unchecked power they currently possess to suspend who they want is a separate issue and has little to do with Trump alone. For years, social media giant companies have been criticized for not regulating the discourse on their platforms enough, which has set the scene for the rampant spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories on their sites. A large example of this is the widespread disinformation campaign facilitated by Russian hackers on Facebook in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. It is clear that over the years there has not been enough regulation of tech giants like Facebook and Twitter in terms of what content can exist on their platforms, especially given the powerful role these platforms have in shaping public discourse and debate.
It is undeniably a good thing that social media platforms like Twitter have banned Trump from their sites, especially given the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th that Trump was actively inciting online. It is fair to see Trump’s suspension as a positive thing while also calling into question whether social media platforms should have the amount of power that they do, and it should allow us to open a larger conversation about whether the social media giants should be checked or regulated in order to curb the spread of disinformation online.