The man who received 74 million votes for President of the United States, the second highest vote total in history, has been banned from Twitter and Facebook. In recent weeks, many have argued that social media companies have the legal right to ban anyone from their platforms. However, the question remains: Is banning Trump morally acceptable? The answer is no, for three important reasons: bans along ideological lines are inconsistently enforced, set a harmful precedent, and fail to accomplish their intended goals.
Twitter and Facebook claim to have not banned Trump because of his ideology or partisan identity. According to these companies, Trump’s skepticism over the democratic process or his alleged incitement of violence are the real reasons he was banned. However, if Trump truly were banned for questioning election results, social media platforms would have had to ban Nancy Pelosi years ago for repeatedly sowing doubt over the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 victory. If Trump were banned for encouraging the recent riots at the Capitol building, Twitter and Facebook would have to ban Bernie Sanders for using rhetoric that inspired James Hodgkinson to shoot at and injure Republican members of Congress in 2017. A supporter of Senator Sanders might point out that he condemned the violence after it occured, but Trump similarly condemned the violence on January 6th that was done in his name. Democrats who have denied presidential victories or inspired violence are largely still permitted on social media platforms. This inconsistent enforcement should concern anyone who values equal treatment. When it comes to Twitter and Facebook, denying democratic outcomes is only selectively enforced; Democrats are given a free pass not afforded to Republicans.
Even if one disagrees with the previous argument, one should be concerned about the precedent set by the Twitter and Facebook bans. Unelected tech CEOs like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey have taken it upon themselves to decide what information is fit for public consumption. Their filtering of information would not be so worrying if companies like Twitter and Facebook were just some social media options among many, but the “Big Five” of the tech industry form an oligopoly. Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, the Big Five, use anti-competitive tactics to inhibit the growth of ascendant companies and services. Perhaps the most egregious example in recent memory was the coordinated shutdown of Parler, an alternative platform to Twitter favored by conservatives. As of January 11, 2021, Parler has been banned from all Amazon, Apple, and Google services. Amazon Web Services (AWS) alone controls about 40% of all cloud services, and when combined with Apple and Google’s control of the two largest app stores, a ban from the Big Five leaves one with no realistic options for disseminating speech on the Internet. Unchallenged control over the web by a handful of companies and CEOs is harmful for both liberals and conservatives. While Trump is a recent victim of their censorship, there is no sufficient check against tech giants to prevent them from banning liberals who they dislike or disagree with in the future.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Big Tech censorship does not yield the consequences its supporters believe it will. Some have defended the censorship on the basis that it will diminish Trump’s influence. However, the average Trump supporter will not likely be swayed by tech CEOs like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg giving Trump the boot. A more likely result would be a censorship backlash, where now-emboldened Trump supporters spread their speech in the corners of the Internet that permit conservatives. The few conservative-friendly spots left on the Internet, like Gab, will effectively become conservative-only bubbles, while sites like Twitter will cater only to liberal users. The lack of civil discourse between Americans of differing views will surely further political polarization.
Big Tech censorship is something we must address if we are going to seriously consider President Biden’s calls for unity. The Internet has become a de facto public square, and blocking out the perspectives of 74 million Americans from these online venues would be disastrous. Even if one staunchly disagrees with the former President’s online speech, the ideologically motivated enforcement, the poor precedent set, and the potential for further political disunity should motivate one to oppose tech censorship.