Twitter’s head Jack Dorsey says that while de-platforming outgoing President of the United States Donald Trump was the right decision, it sets a dangerous precedent. The decision was driven by demonstrably real offline harm, but it reflects a “failure” on Twitter’s part to “promote healthy conversation”, the chief executive said.
“I believe this was the right decision for Twitter,” said Dorsey, adding that the company “faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance, forcing us to focus all of our actions on public safety.”
Last week, Donald Trump was permanently suspended from the micro-blogging platform “due to risk of further incitement of violence”. The ban came two days after Trump incited a mob to storm the US Capitol, which was formalising Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 US Presidential Elections. Twitter has also cracked down on thousands of accounts dedicated to QAnon, an anonymous conspiracy theory channel and ecosystem.
While Trump was active on a daily basis on Twitter, other social media and techonology platforms have also culled his access. Facebook has banned Trump indefinitely, while YouTube on Wednesday suspended Trump’s account for a week. Today, Snapchat has also permanently banned the outgoing American president.
Twitter’s ban on Trump shows “the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation,” Dorsey said. The ban challenged the notion that if people didn’t like Twitter’s rules, they could simply go elsewhere. But in this case, multiple platforms have banned Trump. Enforcing bans will be “destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet”, he said.
This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet. A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same.
— jack (@jack) January 14, 2021
He said “we all” – presumably social media companies including Twitter – need to examine inconsistent policy and enforcement and how they might encourage distraction and harm. Dorsey went on to plug in an initiative around “an open decentralized standard for social media” called BlueSky, with the ultimate goal being to have Twitter on the standard.
This will take time to build. We are in the process of interviewing and hiring folks, looking at both starting a standard from scratch or contributing to something that already exists. No matter the ultimate direction, we will do this work completely through public transparency.
Angela Merkel sceptical of social media ban on Trump
German chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed reservations about the way President Donald Trump’s Twitter account was suspended. Merkel is concerned at the power Big Tech holds to shape public discourse. “The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” her spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters at a regular government news conference in Berlin on Monday. “Given that, the chancellor considers it problematic that the president’s accounts have been permanently suspended.”
In India, Tejasvi Surya, a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has cited the social media ban of Trump as an indication of the inordinate power of Big Tech companies. Stating that Twitter ban of Trump was a wake-up call to the the threat to democracies posed by “unregulated big tech companies”, he said it was important to review India’s regulation of intermediaries to rein in Big Tech.