By Kabir Singh
New York City, New York
In the aftermath of the insurrection at the Capitol, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms suspended President Donald Trump’s accounts. Trump fomented domestic terrorism on American Democracy. This was not a heat-of-the-moment mistake. Throughout his presidency, and even before, Trump has used social media platforms to spread misinformation and to incite hatred. This time, though, he threatened government officials’ safety. Trump deserved to be removed from office. However, the precedent set by banning him from social media alludes to the powers held by the leaders of big technology companies. Already, social media is a primary source of news for people, and the way in which people receive information has become more polarized. If not handled properly, the power that tech leaders hold can do great harm to social media users––and by extension, society.
The specific ruling the tech companies made regarding Trump’s ability to use social media was more than justified. The First Amendment right, freedom of speech, that many have appealed to as rationale for his reinstatement on these platforms, does not apply. The case of Brandenburg vs. Ohio made it illegal to advocate for "crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform," and that is exactly what Trump did. These tech companies are not obligated to allow people to circulate information that incites violence. It was important for the integrity and democracy of the nation that his behavior be contained, especially because Congress had refused to restrict him time and time again. However, we must continue to make the distinction between people who act like Trump did and people who don’t. It is important that we keep being wary of the hegemonic big tech industry censoring those who express their opinions but do not encourage violence, in other words, do not allow banning someone who endangers the country to become censorship. Freedom of speech remains vital to the integrity of this nation, and the circulation of different kinds of speech is the only way our democracy will sustain itself. While Trump’s actions necessitated the repercussions they received, the power of big tech companies must also be contained, and they must not be allowed to control speech as they please. Otherwise, we undermine the very value that was under attack at the Capitol on January 6: our democracy.