It is long, long past time for Twitter, as a corporation, to give up on pretending there is anything redeeming about broadcasting Donald Trump’s detachment from reality.
“Official sources called this election differently,” squeaks the milquetoast warning. As opposed to, say, “This public figure is mounting a propaganda campaign in an attempt to seize power despite losing an election” or, better, simply wiping the tweet from existence.
Of Trump’s post-election tweets, Twitter has chosen to slap warning labels on a rising chunk of them—a not entirely pointless exercise, but not one that truly limits a malignant narcissism-fueled anti-democratic despot seeking to overturn U.S. election results because they made him Sad. He continues to pipe up with conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, directs supporters to conspiracy-promoting websites and videos, and lies egregiously about all, as in all, subjects.
Despite popular belief, Twitter is not required, as a company, to host speech clearly intended to damage the country. This is not a case of a powerful man simply blabbering in public, but a propaganda campaign explicitly intended to cast doubt on America’s democracy itself, with wild claims that “millions” of fraudulent, invisible votes swung the election away from him as part of some secret plot. Twitter does not have to harm the nation by allowing it. Not Facebook, not any of the other companies.
Trump will have no rights being violated if Twitter blocks his account this very evening. There is no important presidential duty that can only be carried out via Twitter. The man lives in a house with a dedicated press room funded by the United States government himself; he can soil that, if he likes, and networks can decide whether to cover his outbursts as they happen. But Trump does not have the right to defraud the American public on Twitter’s personal dime, unless Twitter wants it to happen.
Give it up, Jack. It’s time.
We know that the reason Twitter has resisted is, in the end, money and cowardice. If Donald Trump is barred from using Twitter as propaganda device, Donald Trump’s slobbering followers will declare a boycott. This will make Twitter sad, make investors sad, and briefly make the site slightly less of a charred hellscape. Because the greatest edict of all companies, from Fox News to Facebook to Twitter, is to not make investors sad even if their product is doing real damage to their audience and nation.
Here’s the thing about that boycott, though. It will last all of a few weeks before all but the most conspiracy-minded frothers get sick of screaming into the wilderness of new hate-speech sites and come groveling back to post memes and recipes. Plus, there might be a positive relations boost from being seen as not willing to sell out the country to avoid peeving racist crackpots—a plus, during a time when Congress is contemplating whether social media companies are indeed the threats to democracy and public safety that their critics contend.
Whatever. We are all very tired of explaining and coaxing. Either do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing, or shut up with all the talk of deep principles and corporate hand-wringing. In the end it seems we are going to have to come to some solution ourselves, democracy by democracy, to avoid becoming slaves to microtargeting tools provided to autocracies and to the whims of whoever can be the most successfully unprincipled. But Donald Trump has no inherent right to use any non-public platform to mislead Americans or stoke conspiracy-premised violence. If you let him, that’s on you.