In the final days of the Trump administration we are witnessing one of the most public and sweeping cancellations of an individual in our country. Donald Trump has seemingly been locked out of any internet or social account that he may have. Banks are distancing themselves from the president and even the PGA is cancelling business with the man. Twitter was one of the first dominoes in this spiral and likely one of the harshest. Several days after the take down of Trump, Twitter’s CEO is now opining on the severity of the action and whether this is the correct course. The actions are reversible and this does not have to be a stake- in- the- ground moment.
These actions are seen on the conservative side as a warning that a small group with homogeneous political views could wipe out alternative viewpoints overnight. The argument goes – if they can silence and shun a sitting President, what will they do to you? This surely was the largest single display of wiping someone from the conversation. It clearly shows how reliant our society is on social media and internet platforms for information and communication. This reliance is only growing in the 2020’s as we continue to operate our remote lives.
Not only was Trump taken down, but even sites where his followers were perceived to be communicating. In one of the most shocking corporate offensives, three industry giants aimed against the upstart Parler. It only took a weekend to remove a site that was topping App Store charts. Apple, Google and Amazon collectively deleted a business due to not having the same rules as the other three. Parler’s sin is being perceived as a “right wing” social platform. Their own marketing places themselves as a free speech alternative to legacy social media. Allegedly, this company did not monitor speech in a way that was consistent with the other technology cool kids. This is a larger discussion but, this speaks to the power that a technology oligarchy can exercise on our society any time they please.
For the supporters of the cancellation, the justification is that Trump is someone who incites violence and has a large megaphone to do so. The reaction is in light of January 6, 2021 and the day will forever be the “I told you so moment” for many. The argument for keeping one of the most prominent social media users quiet is to keep our country from experiencing violent riots and disruptions to the inauguration. Further, many see this as an action to be applauded. The canceling feeds into the post- election elation of the left that the “the king is dead.” The Teflon Don was finally unable to escape a different mob.
For many on the left, he has likely said something every day of his presidency that was worthy of cancellation. There has been a swell in calling for people to be de- platformed, cancelled, and tarred and feathered for not holding the popular beliefs of the left. There is a movement occurring where you must comply with certain ideas, use the proper language and signal your correctness to the public. This is a goalpost that seems to be on skates or a runaway train maybe. Donald Trump was the most visible antithesis of this culture and his presence in the digital public square bothered many.
Days after the en masse cancellation, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey began to express his opinions on the effort in an unexpected way. He took a stance that what occurred was a dangerous precedent and questioned the correctness of his company’s actions. To me, that is strange mostly because the messaging makes him sound like he is distant from decision making. I’m not sure what the procedures are for executing a Twitter ban but, it seems that if you’re going ban a sitting US President, the CEO would want to weigh in on that.
This could be more of the public relations effort of an industry now asking congress for assistance. There has been a growing argument from social media CEOs to be regulated at the federal level. Twitter, Facebook, Alphabet and others continue to be in a vice squeezed by both political parties. These industry leaders now say, ‘please set rules for our communities so that we don’t have to.’ Publicly questioning whether your company did the right thing over Twitter could be another overture to lawmakers.
It’s also plausible that Mr. Dorsey does actually think that the action was too far- reaching. Part of his comments reflected on how typically those banned from his site have other options available to them. The issue now is what happens when all of his peers act collectively in the same manner. Should social media companies think independently and not make snap decisions to send the right signal? Should private firms be calling balls and strikes on the appropriateness of speech on their site? Further, should private companies decide what the appropriate level of moderation is required from a peer/ competitor (Parler)?
To me, the upside is that these actions can be reversed. These companies do not have to draw a red line and say ‘we can not go back from here.’ You can reinstate someone’s voice. In my opinion, the fact that a highly visible CEO seems unsure of whether it is right or not makes a case for reversal. Personally, I don’t think it should have happened in the first place but, we don’t have to say that we are done on the issue.
This would, of course, require several highly influential executives and corporations to admit a mistake. Reversing the cancellation of the President would also then alienate those on the left who have had a great victory against their chief rival. You would then also have a backlash from the political left at the exact moment they take power of the White House and Congress. The firms would have to decide that giving someone their freedoms back outweighs a hashtag to cancel Twitter or Facebook (or YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch, Shopify, the PGA, Mayor de Blasio, Pinterest, Amazon, Stripe, etc.). They would also have to decide that restoring some goodwill with conservatives is worthwhile even though Democrats may likely decide their regulatory fate.
At the end of the day, a select few companies now wield an incredible level of influence over our daily lives and public discourse. The topics that they are being asked to tackle are complex. There really isn’t a way for these companies to decide on those issues without negative market share risk. They are also networks that operate in nearly every country on the planet. These companies must now also serve the greater international constituency, not just the US. I think that in this country we should have more conversation, not less. I think that people should not be exiled from the public square because of the actions of others. Expelling political or commercial competitors further alienates factions of our society and widens the gap of understanding one another.