By Phoebe Weinstein
New York City, New York
Throughout his presidency and even beforehand, Donald Trump was known for his tweeting tendencies. He in fact claimed that “many are saying [he’s] the best 140 character writer in the world” (November 10, 2012). However, he found himself banned from the app during the certification of the 2020 election results. He had recently been censored for some of his more inflammatory and incorrect statements. To refresh your memory, here are some tweets of his over the years:
“I'm not against vaccinations for your children, I'm against them in 1 massive dose. Spread them out over a period of time & autism will drop!” – September 4, 2014
“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived” – December 12, 2013
“Mexico will pay for the wall!” – September 1, 2016
“The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls. They are rigged just like before.” – January 17, 2017
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” – March 4, 2017
“Starting to get VERY high marks in our handling of the Coronavirus (China Virus)…” – September 7, 2020
“We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” – November 4, 2020
“He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!” – November 15, 2020
These are only a handful of Trump’s tweets––and every one of them perpetuates false information. Many, such as his disbelief of President Barack Obama’s American citizenship and his labeling COVID-19 as the “China Virus,” uphold harmful and bigoted racism. Furthermore, some tweets––such as those from November of 2020––denounce the democratic process and have been cited as possible calls to the insurrection that took place on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
And yet it was a shock to many Americans when a considerable number of social media platforms banned the former president. Twitter’s ban of Trump, of course, was the most notable, though Google, Instagram, Youtube, Snapchat, Facebook, Reddit, TikTok, Apple, Discord, Twitch, Pinterest, Amazon AWS, Okta, Twilio, Stripe and Shopify followed suit. While it is sort of humorous to imagine Trump connecting with his followers on Soundcloud, Myspace or Tumblr, it also raises other concerns.
My greatest concern regarding these events is how dependent we have become on these private social media platforms for information––and disinformation. Though it is completely within their rights to censor Trump, it is also worrying that these non-governmental companies have such influence upon our public sphere and politics. However, another question that concerns many Americans is whether the president’s First Amendment rights have been compromised by this censorship.
This concern is misguided. The First Amendment applies only to government censorship of the people, not private companies of their users. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Trump held the most powerful individual office in American democracy, yet still promoted hate speech and falsities; simply look to the tweets quoted above for proof. The actions of these companies don’t set a precedent for suppressing freedom of speech, but false information that could be seriously dangerous. Twitter, for example, released this statement: “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them—specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter—we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Especially in light of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the censorship of Trump on these private platforms is not only justified, but extremely necessary.