As someone in the opinion business, I think everyone is entitled to their own, and that’s especially true for people I disagree with or those who disagree with me.
With Elon Musk as the head “Twit” of Twitter, former President Donald Trump is very likely coming back to the social media platform. We must prepare ourselves for that. And even though I absolutely, utterly, desperately and profoundly despise Trump – it’s for those same reasons that I fundamentally believe that he should never have been permanently banned in the first place.
Please, give me a chance to explain.
What the First Amendment does and does not protect
Unlike other countries, the U.S. Constitution is based on our very uniquely American distrust of government, specifically the federal government. So, our First Amendment, along with the Bill of Rights, is directed at regulating government action (federal and state), rather than private sector action. That’s why Twitter could kick Trump off in the first place, or the NFL can punish Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee in protest of racial violence.
That means that private companies can, more or less, do what they want when it comes to the issue of speech. But the First Amendment, when it was written, obviously didn’t contemplate the black hole of the internet and all the intricacies that it would pose to people and the government in the future.
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Many leaders in the United States and around the world say it is concerning that a private, infinitely powerful social media company could limit one individual’s speech so easily:
►Last year, then prime minister of Germany, Angela Merkel, said Trump getting the boot from the platform was “problematic.”
►Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, imprisoned under President Vladimir Putin for his political views, came out on Twitter against the ban.
►French President Emmanuel Macron also blasted the company at an Atlantic Council forum for cutting the mic once Trump had lost the 2020 election.
►Even the ACLU called out Twitter’s decision and expressed concerns about the power of social media companies “unchecked power.”
I have to admit that, as much as I loathe Trump, I believe that permanently banning him from Twitter (as long as he’s not directing violence toward people), is not in the country’s ultimate interest.
A slippery slope
With the midterm elections on Nov. 8, America’s No. 1 election denier will surely be back online tweeting up a storm for, and against, politicians across the country. I understand that feels upsetting, frustrating and just damn wrong to a lot of people. Believe me, I am not a fan of any of it.
Nonetheless, silencing him online is not the job of multibillion dollar private companies that already hold exponential power over every aspect of our lives.
More important, private companies silencing politicians is also not how democracy works. Democracy includes letting people rant and rave: powerful or not. It includes letting people lie. If he breaks the law then he should get his day in court. If the American people believe that he’s not fit to be president, then (if he runs) he shouldn’t win. That’s how democracy works.
Plus his hateful rhetoric and rampant lies will help Democrats when Trump does decide to officially announce his 2024 presidential campaign.
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Don’t want to see his tweets? Ignore is a thing.
If we don’t like what Trump has to say then we can block him, flag his posts, take down a specific post that violates a very specific rule about violence or, simply, choose not to listen.
Shutting Trump off forever from one major platform is also ineffectual. He just turns to other media networks like Fox News that are happy to do his bidding. Cutting the mic also turns him into a political martyr, which I think is considerably more dangerous.
But, and I cannot stress this enough, we must not leave it up to private corporations to tell us what we can and cannot say.
More important, we must not get into the business of silencing people we disagree with, even if they’re powerful and we disagree with them vehemently. It is for the law to judge them, not billionaire corporations.
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