Tuesday Talk*: Was Twitter Wrong To Deplatform A President?

There is no rational argument that Twitter, a private corporation, was not entirely within its legal rights to throw Trump off its site, even if a handful of unduly passionate lawyers and scarily moronic congress folk cry First Amendment. No, it doesn’t matter that it’s a publicly traded corporation. No, it doesn’t matter that some call it the virtual town square. No, it doesn’t matter that you’ve been reliably informed that Section 230 protections require it to not discriminate politically. This isn’t a discussion.

But as Eugene Volokh points out in his New York Times op-ed, that’s not where the fair concerns end.

What should we think about the power of such private corporations — and of the companies’ immensely wealthy owners — over American political speech?

That’s a hard question to answer. On the one hand, deplatforming a user like Mr. Trump is perfectly legal, and the perils of corporate power are often exaggerated.

On the other hand, these companies are exercising a sweeping ability to silence all of a politician’s speech, not just the dangerous parts. This would be condemned as prior restraint — that is, an action forbidding a wide range of future speech, rather than punishing a specific past statement — if done by the government. Furthermore, these companies are doing this in an environment of limited competition and with little transparency, procedural protection or democratic accountability.

There is free speech, the legal doctrine. There is free speech, the principle. Neither is held in particularly high esteem these days by a great number of people. And a great number of people will lose no sleep over Trump being denied his direct source to his minions to spew whatever pops into his head in the middle of the night as he stews about how his quest to be accepted as a rich guy by the old guard of Palm Beach has been thwarted by people who don’t admire his taste in classy gold-plated toilets.

But, and this is a big but, he is the President of the United States, whether he deserves to be or not.

Yet Citizens United was just about whether corporations could spend money to convey their views. Now we have a few huge corporations actually blocking someone’s ability to convey his views. Plus, such blocking affects not just the speaker; it also affects the millions of people who use Facebook and Twitter to hear what their elected officials have to say.

While you may shed no tears for Trump, these platforms have taken the first step onto the slippery slope, which may be a logical fallacy but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a slide.

And what happens once is likely to happen again. After this, there’ll be pressure to get Facebook, Twitter and other companies to suppress other speech, such as fiery rhetoric against the police or oil companies or world trade authorities. People will demand: If you blocked A, why aren’t you blocking B? Aren’t you being hypocritical or discriminatory?

It’s not as if presidents are, or can be, “silenced.” They have press secretaries and conferences. When they announce something, it appears in the funny pages, even if not on page A1. But it still puts them at the mercy of social media when they choose to speak directly to the public or want to get something out now. Should they be able to do so, even if it’s false and nonsensical? If they’re the chief executive of a nation, doesn’t a nation want to know what’s going through, or popping out of, their head?

And then Eugene’s point about about “who else” filters down to the unwashed masses. There has been a huge vetting of QAnon accounts on the twitters, which means that they can’t spew their crazy conspiracy theories or plan their next attack on Twitter’s platform, but they also can’t talk about what they had for lunch or show their cat pics. Even if you’re good with the former, what about the latter?

And if you think it’s an acceptable price to pay to rid social media of the nuts, what makes you think your next twit won’t be viewed by someone, or some algo, as an expression Jack Dorsey can do without? What happens if Jack, Zuck, Jeff or Sergey decide it’s time to really flex their muscle and make SJ disappear with the speed of Parler? If they can do it to Trump, what president is safe? And if they can do it to a president, us groundlings don’t stand a chance.

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

83 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Was Twitter Wrong To Deplatform A President?

  1. mike parr

    Good point about Citizens United.

    As we know the government monitors every form of communication and the FBI has warned law enforcement nationwide that plans have been intercepted calling for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

    While I would prefer that Trump’s Twitter account not been suspended (I like knowing what he’s thinking), Jack Dorsey may have been encouraged by one of our government agencies to shut him down before the protests begin and he can encourage violence. Same with Zuckerberg et. al.

    I would think that preventing a president from encouraging armed protesters to engage in violence would be an acceptable reason to suspend Trump’s accounts.

    1. SHG Post author

      “As we know…” Best to keep your tinfoil hat hidden from view if you don’t want people to slowly back away from you at parties.

    2. KeyserSoze

      Please look up: Project Echelon.

      Capturing all the cell traffic in the world is feasible. Doing something with it is another issue.

  2. Rxc

    Would it be acceptable for an electric utility to cut off service to a newspaper or radio station that the utility had decided was disseminating dangerous information?

      1. rxc

        I appreciate that it might not be the best example, because we all think that electricity has become a right, but internet access, for political purposes, also seems to have come to be thought of as a fundamental right. No one has the right to force a publisher to print their crazy thoughts, but right now big tech has the benefit of Section 230, which is very valuable to them, and I would argue that Section 230 was supposed to ensure that all voices were allowed to stand on their own soapbox.

        Can the lumberyards and hardware stores refuse to supply wood and nails for a soapbox, if they don’t agree with the speech that will come down from it? Is this a better example?

        It is hard to figure out what to do. No one can force a publisher to print everything that every wingnut wants to distribute. But if publishers got some sort of public benefit or protection for providing the service of printing stuff, it seems that there should be some hook to keep the publisher from monopolizing all the soapboxes and presses in town.

        Come to think about it, doesn’t the federal govt already scrutinize media consolidation activities so that we don’t end up with one Giant Media Corp in a town controlling all the TV and radio stations and the newspapers? I know that the feds have stepped in in situations where it looked like there would only be one newspaper. It happened in Pittsburgh, when I lived there.

        And they definitely do it for radio and TV stations.

        1. Brian Urban

          They don’t regulate Radio/TV ownership much any more.
          From the FCC website:

          Limitations on the number of radio stations a single entity may own in an area are based on a sliding scale that varies by the size of the market:

          In a radio market with 45 or more stations, an entity may own up to eight radio stations, no more than five of which may be in the same service (AM or FM).
          In a radio market with between 30 and 44 radio stations, an entity may own up to seven radio stations, no more than four of which may be in the same service.
          In a radio market hosting between 15 and 29 radio stations, an entity may own up to six radio stations, no more than four of which may be in the same service.
          In a radio market with 14 or fewer radio stations, an entity may own up to five radio stations, no more than three of which may be in the same service, as long as the entity does not own more than 50 percent of all radio stations in that market.

          National Television Ownership

          There is no limit on the number of television stations a single entity may own nationwide as long as the station group collectively reaches no more than 39 percent of all U.S. TV households. For the purpose of determining compliance with this National Television Ownership rule, television stations operating on UHF channels (14 and above) are attributed with only half (50 percent) of the number of TV households in the DMA, as opposed to 100 percent of the number of households attributed to stations operating on VHF channels (13 and below). This is known as the UHF Discount. Unlike the rules discussed above, the National Television Ownership rule is no longer subject to the FCC’s quadrennial review.

        2. Charles

          “I would argue that Section 230 was supposed to ensure that all voices were allowed to stand on their own soapbox.”

          Yes, but you miss what the soapbox is. Under Section 230, Facebook is a soapbox and Twitter is a soapbox. Facebook users and Twitter users merely are sharing the soapbox.

          Section 230 ensures that neither Facebook nor Twitter will lose their soapboxes due to third-party liability simply because they let other people use them. But if Facebook and Twitter don’t want to share them with you or anyone else, nothing in Section 230 requires them to share.

  3. Rojas

    Yes they were wrong. We’ve seen some international leaders push back. This may end up costing them their market dominance world wide as other countries consider whether they want led Jack be their decider.

    1. SHG Post author

      Do “international leaders” care about Trump or free speech, or do they care that they won’t be benched?

  4. Nyx

    What I think worries most people is less the prospect of tech giants using their power themselves, but the prospect of the government pressuring them or directing them on the use of that power. The Democrats are hardly being shy about their desire for greater “moderation” of their opponents. It will be very difficult for Twitter to refuse that when Congess is writing legislation that could make or break them.

    1. SHG Post author

      Neither right nor left wants to leave tech in charge of speech, but for opposite reasons. Either way, tech has to decide to fight or capitulate.

      1. Jesse

        Trump digs his own hole with his speech. The idea that “Big Tech” has to protect us from anyone, even a president like Trump, is rather dubious.

        1. SHG Post author

          In a better world, we would all be capable of distinguishing flagrant lies and calls to violence such that we need no private big brother to protect us. Sadly, reality doesn’t always win.

  5. B. McLeod

    Well, this has always been an environmental factor for those using any social media site. Also, Twitter in particular has had a longstanding reputation for viewpoint discrimination. It is the very reason I have never used Twitter. I think people who do have to know what they are getting into. It should be a front-end question for everyone how much personal investment to make on sites and platforms where any user can be banned by fiat, for any reason or no reason.

      1. B. McLeod

        That is a good example of a platform I never would have spent time on, had I known the direction it would take. Of course, ultimately they were forced to close comments entirely, due to complaints from ABA’s own members and officers about the incivility of the death threats, obscenities and personal attacks the moderators were allowing from posters aligned with their political opinions. Sometimes, site sponsors inexplicably decide to destroy their own platform like that, and they have a right to do it if they choose. In the case of ABA, I would say they were just following the death spiral of the larger organization.

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t know which was cause or effect, but the death spiral that followed should be appreciated as a warning of what can happen.

  6. Raccoon Strait

    On one hand, Twitter and Facebook are not the only venues for a President to convey their views. The White House maintains a press room full of media people for that express purpose (as you point out). Whether they report the sentiment desired is part and parcel of exactly the same kind of corporate view/censorship Professor Volokh expresses concern about. There are in fact competing models out there already doing exactly that, some pro all the time, some con all the time, and they use our people owned airways, for at least some of their spew.

    On the other hand, do Facebook, Twitter, or the rest of us, want some poor soul working the graveyard shift to be the determinator of whether some wacko or not statement from the Instigator in Chief gets aired? Of course higher levels of sanity might review the overnight missives each morning, but there is a saying about ‘once the cat’s out of the bag’…

    In the end though, I don’t think we actually should want the government defining how these business should act. For one thing, governments are like tides, they keep shifting. If faction 1 sets the standard first, it is almost certain that Faction 2 will try to reverse that at some point in the future. If we are going to mature as a Republic, we need stability, not more partisan rancor. Besides, I don’t think we really want to give the Supreme Court another opportunity to make a mistake (at least as I see it) like Citizens United (why should money be the determinant as to who gets to talk loudest in a democratic system?).

    So far as the platforms go, people can vote with their feet (or should that be mouses?), which may take longer than we want to sort out which platform is Faction 1 and which is Faction 2, but it will keep government out of the legislating speech arena, that is if they can even find a way to do so within the confines of the 1st Amendment.

  7. Mark Schirmer

    People who say, this is OK, and say it won’t spread have already missed the boat. It has already spread. Feminists have been banned from Twitter for discussing biological facts and defending women’s programs. Lesbians who defend their sexual orientation have been banned from Twitter, Facebook, and have from Reddit. Leftists who have attacked social media’s power and motives have been deplatformed.

    They have already come for much of the city. You just haven’t noticed. Yes, it’s legal. Yes, it’s wrong. And I’m afraid our chance to fix it and save Section 230 by making the immunity based on viewpoint non-discrimination has passed us by – derided by free market purists and pseudo free speechers, who defended the rights of powerful companies to a governmently bestowed benefit and privilege – immunity – rather than insisting on free speech principles. What ye shall sow, ye shall reap.

    1. Grant

      The limits you propose to Section 230 immunity are unworkable.

      Even a low-IQ attorney fresh out of law school can figure out how to plead almost any website content moderation as viewpoint discrimination. Generally speaking, this means lawsuits only resolve after discovery, which opens a SLAPP can of worms.

      Just because the current situation is bad doesn’t mean you can’t make it worse.

      1. Mark Schirmer

        Grant, that’s just wrong. It’s difficult to sucessfully plead a first amendment violation. Many, many such cases are through out on rule 12 or similar motions. The defense: we cut only that clearly permissible under existing first amendment jurisprudence.

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t think Grant would disagree with you, but there’s a difference between pleading and pleading successfully to get past a 12(b)(6) motion. Even if they can’t do the latter, a million cases of the former is a bit of a burden to any business.

          1. Mark Schirmer

            I understand. Guess that burden doesn’t bother me when we are dealing with multi billion dollar corporations with market and political power. Grant, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive, just responding fast on a telephone.

            1. SHG Post author

              It’s cool. Remember, they are multi-billion dollar corps now, but so too was ITT and IBM in their day. Whether something new will come along and catch the interest of the young (and let’s face it, they can be changeable) and these handful of giants are cut down to size has yet to be seen. That doesn’t mean you should feel sorry for them, but even successful businesses are entitled to exist in our glorious capitalist society.

          2. PseudonymousKid

            The difference isn’t that much. 12(b)(6) even after Iqbal and Twombly is a low bar. I get a chance to amend as of matter of right under 15(a)(1)(A) after you tell me what I did wrong the first time around. Renew your motion afterwards, go ahead. Unless a claimant really has nothing they should be able to get through to discovery even if a claim or two is lost in the process. Bill up those fees for little gain, defense bar.

            I’m sorry for diving, Pa. I really am, but I couldn’t help it.

            1. Mark Schirmer

              Depends on the subject. In a personal injury case, this is probably true. But in the first amendment area – or antitrust or securities law – the substantive requirements to plead a claim that will survive a motion to dismiss or very early summary judgment motion an be pretty daunting. I think people who equate all these causes of action don’t understand how specialized pleading has become.

  8. Jake

    No, they were not wrong. Free speech ≠ free reach. Use of Twitter is a privilege and Trump wore out his welcome.

    And as you know, I am a bit of an expert on wearing out your welcome on someone else’s platform.

    1. PseudonymousKid

      We’re all but sinners in the hands of angry gods. Blessed be Zuck and the rest of the pantheon. Amen.

  9. B. McLeod

    This morning there are reports that at least one ISP has blocked Twitter and Facebook for all its customers, in reaction to the censorship imposed by Twitter and Facebook.

    1. SHG Post author

      I hadn’t heard that, but per Boing Boing, it’s correct:

      Following the mass social media ban on Donald Trump, ISP Your T1 WIFI — which services Northern Idaho and the Spokane, Washington area — has blocked their customers from accessing Facebook and Twitter.

      This could get interesting.

      1. Jake

        As many as thirteen potato farms who may be affected by this unprecedented ISP blackout could not be reached for comment.

          1. Jake

            I love potatoes! Sliced, fried, and served with copious amounts of salt and ketchup. And you can serve them with or without those stupid ‘organically grown’ labels that make the hearts of so many elitists leap with joy.

        1. Richard Parker

          Ah Jake, your comment is part of how we go to this point. Stretch real hard on your toes and maybe this won’t go over your head.

            1. Jake

              Sorry, I thought today was Tuesday. Richard put a shot across my bow and yes, I think it’s fair to understand what he’s trying to say before responding.

              Is this my warning that I’m about to be de-platformed for today while trying to respond to a comment that is ostensibly against de-platforming in a string of comments about some hillbilly that de-platformed Twitter for de-platforming?

            2. SHG Post author

              There was no question about whether you could. The question was whether you should. Entirely different question.

  10. ljakaar67

    I am certainly okay with Twitter kicking Trump off for a short term, even as Congress can’t figure out how to deal any sort of punishment to the man that attacked them, I am okay with Twitter disrupting the communications of insurrectionists.

    I am more worried about every Tom, Dick, and Harriot social media company kicking Trumpsters off, that seems like an unjustifiable corporate pile-on — I’d want to know how Trump abused their platforms.

    To Volokh’s concerns of abuse, which Turley also echoed, I’d respond as I have on Twitter

    It’s easy to make your own website, but of what good is that when you can’t find dns providers and payment processors. A 21st century communications/ecommerce societal backbone must see that Internet Access is a human right as we do when we speak of the digital divide

    Social media reform can be relatively light and looks like

    1. critical internet infrastructure as common carriers (dns provision, ddos protection, payment processors, and possibly IAAS and PAAS)

    2. reform of 230 to include consumer protection law. If a social media giant of a certain size is selling our data or pushing ads on us, then we are owed

    a. published content and moderation guidelines (what can I expect to be moderated out, this can be anything from precise political views to bad 230 takes, but it has to be published by the social media company)

    b. auditable data on bans and suspensions that accredited, big data, 3rd party researchers can use to score accuracy and compliance of 2a above.

    c. open, transparent “due process” of bans and suspensions that are appealable in a timely manner to human boards, not just to bots

    I would justify this under the Stiglitz, Akerlof 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics “Markets with asymmetric information” based on Akerlof’s 1970 paper “the market for lemons” which examines how the quality of goods traded in a market can degrade in the presence of information asymmetry between buyers and sellers, leaving only “lemons” behind.”

    3. creation of RFCs for interoperability of feeds and removal of government feeds from social media that does not support some level of interoperability


    do that, I think consumers are protected, speech is protected, and social media companies can implement all the capricious moderation they want, but at least, the public will know, and the walled gardens that prevent switching will be opened up

  11. Dov Lazarus

    These companies are monopolies (at best, duopolies). There is no where else to voice an opinion.

    Its not ok for 5 people to disenfranchise 80 million people. Any government that says it is ok is hiding behind a legal fiction to mask their own authoritarian and fascist tendencies.

    If the government is truly intent on a being perceived as legitimate and representing the population, they need to ensure that everyone can be heard on the platforms that count, they must force public disclosure and oversight of the algorithms that control us, and enforce net neutrality.

    1. ljakaar67

      > Any government that says it is ok is hiding behind a legal fiction to mask their own authoritarian and fascist tendencies.

      It’s not just the government saying this, more shocking to me are the huge numbers of journalists saying this. (“With the first link the chain is forged..” Judge Aaron Satie famous words from The Drumhead)

      > they must force public disclosure and oversight of the algorithms that control us, and enforce net neutrality.

      I’m not sure we need oversight, at the moment I would be good with public disclosure and analysis by researchers. Is there a problem? What are the problems.

      1. SHG Post author

        You’re testing my patience, TT rules notwithstanding. First, you’re new here. Nobody, but nobody, gives a flying fuck what you, random psuedo daytripper, are not sure of. Second. that you’ve chosen to engage a comment of utter idiocy informs me that you’re not going to like it here. Don’t get too comfortable.

  12. Richard Parker

    If only those cowardly radio stations of the time had shut down that Communist Roosevelt, we would be a better country!

  13. Curtis

    There is something very wrong when a private company has the power to significantly change the political discourse of a country. I am not saying it is currently illegal but it is very bad for society when a few companies have the ability to exercise this power.

    My preference would be to have the Fairness Doctrine be reinstated and updated to apply to the monopolistic tech giants.

  14. Mark Dwyer

    Trump has long been allowed to make his political statements on social media. No one took away his megaphone.

    At some point he went further, and started using social media to incite an insurrection. His words were not just dangerous, but a component part of a crime. The government can prosecute him for uttering the words, because the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Why then can’t media platforms recognize that he is unlikely to stop, and deny him a means to further his crime? It sounds like a better reason for cutting off a customer than a cake baker’s views on his sexual orientation.

    Holmes spoke of false shouts of fire in a crowded theater. (Some of us remember what a crowded theater was). If the government does not have to allow them, why must Twitter?

    1. Charles

      And there it is.

      “Note: Whenever anyone raises the ‘fire in a crowded theater’ example, they’re playing their reader for a fool. It’s Holmes’ metaphor in Schenk v. United States to show how a clear and present danger isn’t protected speech under peculiar circumstances. Yet he was also clear in his famous dissents that expressions of honest opinion were entitled to near-absolute protection. The point is that fallback on the ‘fire in a crowded theater’ line is almost invariably used to obfuscate an argument rather than enlighten. Be wary.”

      – SHG (Feb. 2, 2014)


      1. SHG Post author

        As much as it’s a trite and terrible trope, it was only to serve as an analogy. I’m giving Justice Dwyer a pass on it. This time.

  15. B. McLeod

    CNN has now also weighed in, with a scholarly analysis on “First Amendment and free speech: When it applies and when it doesn’t.”

    Looks like they forgot to run that one past Getta Neditor. I’m speechless.

  16. Earl Wertheimer

    When other people suggested protests (violent, mostly peaceful or otherwise), most of them were not banned by Twitter.
    Therefore, I can only assume a selective enforcement of rules and their overwhelming dislike for Trump.

    Much has been written about social media ‘monopolies’ recently. What better way to prevent future litigation than by supporting the new incoming administration.

    The recent violence was organized on both platforms, Facebook and Parler. Yet, only Parler was showdown by Amazon. Now Parler is suing AWS.

    Unfortunately, nothing prevents the next Trump administration (in 2024) from trying the same in 4 years.

    This does not bode well for the future.

    Either the social platforms have to allow (almost) all content with consistent rules or they will be split into two and be even more polarized than before. We are getting there: Facebook & Twitter vs Parler & Gab.
    The media has already undergone this split. On one side we have MSNBC, Huffington Post, Washington Post, etc and on the other side Newsmax, Fox?, Breitbart….
    … but it’s the guys who claim to be in the middle (like the NYT) that provide most of the entertainment.

    We are for Free Speech as long as we agree with it…

      1. Charles

        And Joe1094329 also didn’t lead a rally down the street that ended with these words:

        “So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give … The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.

        So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here, this is incredible. Thank you very much. Thank you.”

  17. Rengit

    It’s not simply the broadcast of political views, but also government bodies’ ability to convey information to or request information from the public. Forgive another hypothetical and gaggle of rhetorical questions, but since what five years ago were wild hypotheticals are increasingly resembling reality: what if a bunch of employees at Twitter decide that the riots in Portland are not only justifiable, but morally and legally imperative, such that they decide the police are violating First Amendment rights and encouraging or engaging in violence, and block the Portland police bureau’s Twitter account for TOS violations because it “provides false information about protests” when they say what is happening or “encourages violence against the exercise of First Amendment rights” when they seek identifying info or witness statements on what happened? Or that Google deindexes the links to official announcements on government websites that make the protests look bad? What about European or Asian government accounts putting out announcements on domestic issues in their own countries? The heads of Germany and Mexico have already criticized Trump’s total deplatforming, as have a pair of prominent French ministers, all these countries are considerably less laissez faire than the United States

    Obviously TV, radio, and emergency phone alerts are still there (I get the messages every time there’s an amber alert whether I want it or not), but plenty of younger people have come to expect official advisories and updates on their social media platforms and internet searches. I am not sure how we solve this, but either way the wide open global internet that we have known for the past 20 years is probably soon to be gone.

    1. Brian Urban

      Oh boy, a twofer today in which I’m qualified to comment.

      There has been serious discussion on a couple of broadcaster technical boards about the potential for the President to use EAS to bypass his ban from Twitter, et.al.

      Would a radio or TV station be liable for a substantial fine for not airing the President’s message? And if it is possible to abort an EAN (Emergency Action Notification). The way the rules are written ( 47 CFR Part 11), not airing an EAN will result in a substantial fine. Properly installed, there is no way to bypass the EAS box anyway as it is supposed to be the last thing in the air chain before the transmitter.
      In the EAS boxes I am familiar with, you cannot abort an EAN. Once the box decodes the message header (digital data burst), it immediately interrupts the signal from the studio and inserts the EAN audio. The box plays the EAN audio until an EAT (Emergency Action Termination) message is received. (this occasionally happens during monthly EAS tests when the originating station either doesn’t send an EOT (End of Test) or the box fails to decode the EOT)

      Anyone can disable Amber and other alerts on your phone (it’s often buried and hard to find), but you cannot disable an EAN.

      Internet reliability is an entire thesis. Betting the farm on the internet working when disaster hits isn’t a good idea. We’ve already seen what happens to cell and internet service in a hurricane. Not to mention backhoe fade. (technical joke–Carry 20 feet of fiber optic cable in your pocket at all times. If you get lost in the woods, just lay the fiber out on the ground. Someone will show up with a backhoe.)

  18. Mark Dwyer

    Those issues are interesting. Those issues are not the current issue. Here the companies in control of the media platforms acted where the government can act, and can act for good reason. Any broad solution to the various problems you pose should allow the media companies to do what was done here: stop a president or anyone in a position of importance from fomenting insurrection and committing a crime.

    Beyond what the government can do: cannot corporations refuse contributions to Trump because of his pleas for insurrection? I personally will worry later about whether they can deny money to the Portland police force.

    1. Rengit

      Since this sounds like it was a reply to me: I am not idly speculating, otherwise I wouldn’t have referenced the critiques from other heads of state. It is the state’s business to determine what constitutes committing a crime, not the moderators of social media companies; their business is to determine what content violates the terms of service. Obviously these functions are not unconnected. To the extent that state authorities believe conduct is criminal, but tech moderators don’t (or they believe that the law that is being violated is unjust) and therefore doesn’t violate the ToS or, in counterpoise, state authorities believe that their own conduct is legal (recall that many in the insurrectionary crowd believed the election was fraudulent and illegal, obviously wrong, but Trump is unfortunately part of the state), but tech moderators deem it to violate the ToS because they believe it is illegal or otherwise violates the ToS, we are presented with a clear clash in authority, and only one of them can come out on top.

      This isn’t a hypothetical: just today the government of Uganda shut down access to Twitter and social media sites in the run-up to their election, for the stated reason of combatting disinfo, fear about inciting violence, and other matters of national security; Twitter objected on the basis of human rights about access to the internet and the free flow of information around the world.

  19. KP

    The obvious answer to a monopoly of private companies having control is for Govts to go into competition with them. If you can’t believe in Capitalism enough to let the private sector set up whatever businesses they like, then take the semi-Communist ideas and compete against them. Have a Govt Twitter or whatever and I’m sure there are millions of busybodies willing to make sure it is ‘fair’. Govts have radio and TV stations, just tack on twitters and stuff and I’m sure everyone will be happy!

    “fomenting insurrection”.. so no-one believes in being an adult any more?? You are all so stupid you can be easily swayed by what someone else says & do something you would not normally do?? This is probably the greatest example of Nanny State at her best, “We realise you didn’t mean it, you were just doing what you were told..” Do you lawyers usually argue this in Court?? “My client is too stupid to commit that crime without being told what to do, its not his fault?”
    I figure anyone blaming Trump for what happened just wants to get at Trump and couldn’t give a shit about what actually occurred.

    1. SHG Post author

      Putting aside your error of calling them monopolies, which seems to be pervasice with non-lawyer who have no clue what the word means, the issue of inciting (fomenting isn’t a legal word) insurrection isn’t that the followers lack personal responsibility, but that both the inciter and the insurrectionist are culpable. I know how hard it is to make fine distinctions, but that is nonetheless the distinction to be made.

  20. KeyserSoze

    I have tried for most of the day to come up up with a cogent but short answer to both of todays posts and have failed miserably. I am reduced to making a point or two;

    1). In regards to silencing political speech on the social media platforms, the owners are well within their rights to do so. Because you can does not mean you should. Facebook also removed the #WALKAWAY folks entirely, move that I can only ascribe to political thought control. The current crop of social media lords and masters will face consequences for this per the Rule of Unintended Consequences. Technology gets better and prices come down. The electronic Samizdat is not far away.

    2). I regard the impeachment effort as the act of fools and hopefully Pelosi’s last gasp as she passes away from terminal TDS. The best thing to do would have been to get on with normal business of Congress and let the police agencies do their work

    3). First Amendment rights attach to the President just like they do anyone else.

    4). Regarding the actions described in our host’s posts today: You may not get more Trump, but censoring political speech and pursuing the acts of fools is how you get more Trumpism.

    My thanks to our host and (most of) my fellow commenters.

  21. Brady Curry

    Just as when the teacher tells the class all will be held in detention upon the next outburst some asshole will do it on purpose. The innocent are lumped in with the guilty. If I may show my age for a moment I’ll make an effort to put forth a relevant (maybe only to me) observation.

    Before the internet all local assholes were know and the local populace knew how to handle them, mostly by ignoring them. Then along comes the internet and the local assholes now have an easy means by which to find and converse with other like minded assholes. They all trade stupid ideas and conspiracy theories and then plan a get together so that they can spread their gospel to the unbelievers. We end up with situations like the Capital riot with Trump being the lead asshole.

    Removing the stupid from social networking won’t be an easy or popular endeavor. Pulling the plug and killing all social media is the only fair answer. It’s the “why we can’t have nice things” problem.

    1. SHG Post author

      A few have suggested that we would be far better off without social media. Maybe, but is there any going back? How do you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Twitter?

  22. Sgt. Schultz

    You’ve been struggling with this for a very long time, long before Trump was ever considered to be a serious candidate. I recall a post long ago (I couldn’t find it, but I remember it) where you ask whether it’s better that speech be controlled by unaccountable social media titans than elected officials, not becuase you trust the former but because there isn’t a damn thing that can be done to control the latter.

    It’s easy to fall back on the legal doctrines, as we know them, understand them and have long relied upon them, but they really don’t answer the question of what happens if these corporations decide they are in control and we will only get to say what they allow us to say. We’re not there yet, and we may never be there, but to deny it’s a possibility is nuts. It could happen.

    1. SHG Post author

      As you can see, I’m still struggling, even though I remain as resolute about the First Amendment as ever.

      1. Grum

        Without wishing to get in too deep, and possibly in complete ignorance, the Section 230 thing relied on by the internet social media giants seems a wee bit at odds with kicking off views they don’t like, or rather don’t want to attract flack for.
        Being simultaneously a publisher, controlling what is published, and not being one, letting everything go, does not strike me as a coherent position. God only knows how you square that circle in a way that makes sense. Yep, struggling here too.

        1. SHG Post author

          Section 230 and free speech are different issues. A lot of people conflate the two, but they are not the same.

          1. Mark Schirmer

            The First Amendment and Section 230 are different things. The question is whether the socio-political principles that really comprise our respect for freedom of expression are implicated.

  23. Bryan Burroughs

    As a libertarian, the appeal of “let people vote with their feet” is strong. Surely competition would keep companies honest, right? Except in this case, Amazon literally shut down the competition the next day.
    We seem to be in a situation where the major tech companies are too large and have too much control over too many things. I may like this particular instance of overreach, but I don’t believe in benevolent dictators.
    Scrapping Section 230 isn’t the answer. But letting companies which are too large determine the course of public discourse without meaningful public input also isn’t workable.

    1. SHG Post author

      That Parler was summarily executed contemporaneously with Trump being deplatormed elevates the concern level. I don’t know what the correct libertarian view on this should be, but I struggle to find a principled answer to these conflicted questions.

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