These days, almost everyone uses social media to share their voices on everything from pop culture to politics. However, it is often difficult for social media companies to determine where to draw the line on whether or not content is acceptable, especially when a user’s posts lead to criminal acts.
Recently, the major platforms Facebook and Twitter determined that President Donald Trump’s posts, which led to the infamous Capitol riot on Jan. 6, were in violation of their policies, thus banning him.
These companies’ actions were justifiable, as it was his words that led to organized demonstrations in which his faithful followers violently challenged our country’s democratic process, leading to the deaths of five people. On social media, Trump’s posts have been reckless and impulsive, and to the minds of followers who blindly listen to him, poisonous, and had to be stopped.
Many think that banning Trump from social media takes away his most important platform, which is necessary as a public figure. However, as private companies, Facebook and Twitter have the right to refuse service to anyone–including the president–by deleting accounts and messages. After all, these companies own their respective platforms, so it’s up to them to decide what does and doesn’t violate their policies. Every user agrees to the possibility of an account ban should they violate a platform’s policies when they accept the terms of service, and public figures are no different. Facebook and Twitter were the president’s preferred means to reach a wide audience, but he could’ve easily used other ways to reach Americans, such as press conferences and live speeches.
Before the riots, Facebook and Twitter even gave Trump warnings, tacking misinformation labels and corrections onto misleading posts that said things like “Election officials have certified Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.” However, this method proved to be fairly ineffective, because even if his followers saw these warning labels, they already trusted the lies the president had been constantly feeding too deeply to suddenly change their minds just because Twitter said he’s wrong.
As of now, Trump has yet to even take responsibility for inciting the mob. Without any consequences for his actions, he has no reason to stop posting baseless claims of fraud to rile up his base. If Trump’s easiest and most effective way to reach the minds of his loyalists is not taken away, there is no guarantee that he won’t try to coordinate yet another act of sedition even now as a private citizen.
After social media companies started banning Trump’s accounts, he argued that it was within his First Amendment right of free speech to keep posting without censorship. However, one’s right to free speech only protects them from government censorship. Free speech does not come without consequences, and the damage created by the action done in the name of free speech must still be dealt with.
The First Amendment of free speech has nothing to do with private companies–especially when it comes to speaking out against democracy and everything America stands for. Most ironically of all, Trump is citing free speech protected by the very Constitution his supporters denounced during their insurrection.
As Trump slips out of the political spotlight, he may continue to round up what’s left of his supporters to gain attention and publicity for his next stunt. However, instead of Twitter and Facebook, he will be using uncensored, far right platforms, like Parler, to reach his most loyal followers.