From Big Tech and Censorship:
On January 7th Facebook issued an “indefinite” suspension of Donald Trump. Twitter followed with a permanent ban a day later. Snapchat and YouTube barred him. An array of other accounts were suspended. […]
Surely this was acceptable in the face of a mob on the rampage? Legally, private companies can do as they choose. However, some decisions lacked consistency or proportionality. Although Twitter cited a “risk of further incitement of violence” by Mr Trump, the tweets it pointed to did not cross the common legal threshold defining an abuse of the constitutional right to free speech. Meanwhile Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still on Twitter and death threats are easy to find online. The companies ought to have focused on individual posts for incitement. Instead they have banned people, including the president, pushing fringe voices further from the mainstream.
I would argue that the president (any president) is entitled by our democratic values to be given more latitude in his political speech than the average person. The office of the president is our most important political office and the role of that office is to advance a political agenda. Regardless of which party the president belongs to, the odds are reasonably good that about half the country is going to dislike many aspects of that agenda. And some nontrivial subset of that half is going to be absolutely consumed with white-hot fury over it.
As a consequence – even setting aside loftier arguments about the rights and privileges of the head of state – one could argue convincingly that the implicitly contentious nature of the presidency requires that the president’s political speech and rhetoric be given wider berth than pretty much anyone else.
And so it was. For years, as president, Donald Trump regularly used social media in ways that were dangerous, irresponsible, or objectionable enough to get the average user banned. (Plenty of his followers were banned for saying the same sorts of things.) And all the while Twitter, Facebook, and the rest struggled with the question of where to draw the line as they performed a series of logical contortions after each new outrage to justify their decisions.
What they had clearly decided is: not only can the president say anything he wants, but that these private companies had some kind of a moral obligation to distribute – let’s be serious: to promote – that speech. And as the duly elected, sitting president, one could argue that this position towards Donald Trump’s speech – unpleasant as it must have been for these companies to feel complicit in it – was nevertheless correct.
However, as the very-soon-to-be-former president who has been rejected by voters, is days away from leaving office, and has been spending his last moments in power shamelessly abusing it, frantically employing these services in a sustained effort to orchestrate an all-out war on our democratic system in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to cling to power? Well, in this case, it seems Twitter, Facebook and friends have decided less accommodation is owed.
And I think that’s correct, too.