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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

Twitter, Trump, and the future of free speech

By Isabella Zimmermann and Max Strongman
Editor-in-Chief and Opinions Editor

Twitter has served as Former President Donald Trump’s primary platform for the past four years. It is where he first planted the seeds of his campaign and helped nurture them as he rallied support from millions of Americans at home. The service is where he has posted more than 56,000 tweets, with half being posted whilst president. 

Twitter was where Trump could post anything at the touch of a button, especially if he wanted to vent his anger or frustration about anybody. If he fired someone, there was most likely a tweet about it. If he was angry at a world leader or one of his enemies, his followers would surely hear of it. Trump was never limited by mere decency, using the platform to even mock young teenager Greta Thunberg, a pivotal figure in the fight against climate change.

It took two months and five deaths for Trump to unwillingly come to terms with his defeat, a presidential concession brimmed with falsities and mixed-messaging.

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Trump started sowing doubt surrounding the 2020 election’s legitimacy months before it began, saying at a rally on August 17, 2020, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” After his subsequent loss, voters from both sides saw Trump spiral as he attempted to grapple with his unsuccessful election. It took two months and five deaths for Trump to unwillingly come to terms with his defeat, a presidential concession brimmed with falsities and mixed-messaging.

Instead of conceding, the former president continued to spread misinformation about the validity of mail-in ballots, spouting and fostering the concept of widespread voter fraud amongst his impressionable audience: the 74 million Americans that voted for him. 

“I easily WIN the Presidency of the United States with LEGAL VOTES CAST. The OBSERVERS were not allowed, in any way, shape, or form, to do their job and therefore, votes accepted during this period must be determined to be ILLEGAL VOTES. U.S. Supreme Court should decide!” he tweeted on November 6, three days after Election Day.

“I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!” he said again the next day, repeating the baseless notion that he had won the contest.

Even the social media app grew increasingly tired of his antics, marking almost every new tweet with a warning that it was spreading misleading information about the election results, occasionally restricting replies. They were following policy accordingly, holding users accountable for a lack of adherence to community guidelines. 

Former President Trump has always been known for his general disdain for facts, a compliance to reiterate only what furthers his agenda, his goals—his image. It seems as if it is ingrained in his processing, affecting much of his spoken word and Twitter rants. And on January 6, 2020, we saw a coalescence of Trump’s instability, conspiracy confabulations, and outright tyranny.

Pro-Trump rioters rush the Capitol, waving Trump, Confederate, and American flags. (Courtesy of Kyodo News).

At 2:24 p.m. Trump tweeted that then Vice-President Mike Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” in his inaction on the denying of state electoral votes. Minutes later, video captured rioters shouting “HANG MIKE PENCE!” as they attempted to storm the very building where the former vice-president presided over the counting of electoral votes. Trump did not tell his supporters to yell or do any such thing, but his words were the foundational basis for the rioters’ perverse language and behavior.

The same link can be drawn for Trump’s apparant condemning of Capitol rioting and violence via Twitter video at 4:17 p.m.

“I know your [his supporters, those rioting] pain; I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it—especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace…” Trump said with certainty, his provocative veil of fallacy.

The video continued on for some 45 seconds, reestablishing his wishy-washy condemnation of violence. You cannot vehemently sympathize with the rioters and their cause  and denounce their actions in the same sentence. By all means, one can, it is just highly ineffective—and that was exactly the point. 

When Trump willingly sided with the rioters’ cause (his cause, really), when he sowed even more doubt and deceit, he was watering his seeds and rooting his division.

His calls for peace were lost amongst rioter affinity and wildly misleading statements, his plea for rioters to go home methodically shrouded by months of tweet-fueled grievance and deceitful intention. When Trump willingly sided with the rioters’ cause (his cause, really), when he sowed even more doubt and deceit, he was watering his seeds and rooting his division. He did not call the rioters to action, but his tweets and released video provoked and drove them to march towards the Capitol Building.

When you sign up to use a social media app, you are agreeing to that privately-held company’s rules and policies, whether or not you choose to skip reading that long list of terms and conditions. Just like millions of users have agreed to not glorify and threaten violence against an individual or group of people, so did Donald Trump. His status as president and now former president does not elevate him in stature any further than his other fellow Americans or Twitter users.

Twitter’s terms of service, applicable to all users of the platform. (Courtesy of Max Strongman).

The fact of the matter is Trump was not following Twitter guidelines. He was not censored or silenced by Twitter or big tech, but rather by his own inability to follow basic rules. Guidelines, mind you, he willing signed up for when creating a Twitter account.

Former President Trump was not nearly the first to be banned from Twitter. The 70,000 Q-Anon-affiliated accounts that were suspended in January were also a potential threat, as they had been planning a second attack on the U.S. Capitol later that month. The hate groups banned in 2017, which included the American Nazi Party, were, without a doubt, also dangerous. 

Alex Jones, an infamous alt-right conspiracy theorist, was banned in 2018, but only after posting harmful theories. Among them was one that fervently alleged that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged by the government. On January 26, Twitter also banned “My Pillow” CEO Mike Lindell after he continuously posted about how Trump won the 2020 election. Twitter saw this as a violation of their civic integrity policy. 

But what about liberals? How come BLM has not been banned, too? Many conservatives online have protested against such bans, promoting the idea that Twitter suffers from liberal bias and chooses only to punish those on the right. The truth of the matter is that Twitter suspends anyone regardless of their political affiliation, just as long as they have breached guidelines.

During the George Floyd protests back in June of 2020, Twitter suspended multiple accounts that spread false claims that there was a blackout in Washington D.C., regarding the accusations as direct violations of its platform manipulation and spam policy.

Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, too, was temporarily suspended in 2015 after he had leaked CNN editorial producer Andrew Lewis’s contact information after posting a screenshot of an email exchange the two of them had. 

All these people and groups have something in common: they were banned because they broke Twitter policy, policies that apply to every single user, no matter what side they pertain to on the political spectrum. Twitter is not banning anyone from expressing their thoughts and beliefs online, unless it begins to pose harm to a group or person, and that is how it should be. 

When we asked MAST junior Jeremiah Benjamin whether Twitter had an absolute right to ban the former president, he was not so sure.

“Twitter does not have the right to ban Trump. Due to their influence in the public domain, I believe that Twitter and other social media outlets should be labeled as platforms for speech. So unless Trump committed hate speech and or violated another person’s right, he shouldn’t be censored,” Benjamin said in response to the question.

And we totally agree. There is no excuse to allow neo-Nazis to proliferate on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. There is no excuse for allowing someone to say that a school shooting that killed children and teachers was a fraud. There is no excuse for inciting a riot and trying to overturn true election results.

He chose to deliberately lie to his faithful followers, manipulating them to believe that marching D.C. would help “stop the steal”—a steal that was never proved by facts, but was instead promulgated by Trump out of his own hubris.

The riots are completely Trump’s fault; they are of his creation. He chose to deliberately lie to his faithful followers, manipulating them to believe that marching to D.C. would help “stop the steal”—a steal that was never proved by facts, but was instead promulgated by Trump out of his own hubris.

After January 6, Trump showed no remorse for his actions, telling terrorists that he thought they were special and that he loved them. Two days later, Twitter banned him after he posted two tweets, both of which necessitated and solidified his ban on the platform.

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape, or form!!!” Trump said and upheld in a tweet.

“To all those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20,” the former president said in keeping with his refusal to participate in a peaceful transition of power.

Twitter realized the broader implications of those two tweets, recognizing their fuel to “ongoing tensions in the United States.” Twitter went on to say in their blog post ‘Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump’ that Trump’s words “can be mobilized by different audiences, including to cite violence.” In other words, Trump directly broke their Glorification of Violence policy, one he agreed not to breach when he created his account and continually used it.

Donald Trump’s tweets served as “encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target.” His daughter Ivanka Trump referred to the terrorists at the Capitol Building as “patriots,” a term Trump also uses to refer to his supporters. Trump was a potential threat to the safety of our democracy, and Twitter was right in banning him to prevent any more incitement from occurring. 

Whether social media platforms and online spaces are to be considered “public spaces” is still undergoing contentious debate and legal review. The line between a corporation’s free speech rights (granted by Citizens United vs. FEC in declaring corporations people) and those of individuals is growing exponentially more blurred and muted. Regardless, you are not obligated to have an account. Social media is not a right; one’s free speech is, but not necessarily when you are not compliant with company policies. It is a breach of contract, that simple.

De-platforming potentially violent individuals should not be seen as something wrong. Spreading falsehoods about school shootings is appalling, and it so happens that inciting a riot is too. Trump is still allowed to spread misinformation at rallies and in overtly public spaces. It is not as if his freedom of speech has been revoked in its entirety, just his presence on private social media sites, a distinction so often forgotten, but so vital in understanding the arguments at play.

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Twitter, Trump, and the future of free speech