ideas — December 1, 2016 at 9:59 am

Suspending Trump’s Twitter Account Is Not Censorship

There are a number of petitions out there urging Twitter to suspend Donald Trump’s account.

Here’s one we put out a little while ago.

We’ve gotten some blowback on the petition, with quite a few claiming that it would be an act of censorship.

Let me explain why it’s not.

1)  First Amendment Rights Are About The Government, Not A Private Company Like Twitter

The Bill of Rights protects us from government suppression of free speech. It is Congress that “shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”

Twitter is not the Congress. It is under no such obligation to allow or promote absolute freedom of speech, nor is it obliged to provide each individual with a platform to amplify the free speech they are exercising.

Neither are you. None of us is obligated, either legally nor morally, to provide a platform for others’ exercise of  free speech. You need not retweet it, post it on Facebook, or announce it, let’s say, at your place of work.

2) The First Amendment Does Not Protect All Speech

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote: “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” Examples of other areas that are not protected are solicitation to commit a crime, child pornography, inciting violence and “true threats.”

Free speech is not absolute. The community determines that some forms of speech are dangerous, and restricts it.

3) Suspending Trump’s Twitter Account Does Not Deny His Outsize Opportunity To Speak

One might argue that although Twitter is not legally a public space, in our new social media world it is a de facto public space and should therefore, in fairness, provide each and everyone with a platform for their free speech.

The promise of platforms like Twitter, after all, is to level the playing field and provide even the least powerful or celebrated among us to have our voices heard.

Donald Trump, however, is a special case. He is President-Elect and soon to be President.

He has more than enough venues in which to exercise his speech and have it widely amplified, including the power to send unblockable text alerts to all Americans.

4) Suspending Trump’s Twitter Account Doesn’t Mean Twitter Will Block Anything They Don’t Like

Another argument against blocking Trump’s Twitter account employs the logical fallacy of the slippery slope. As one Facebook commenter wrote:

“Then we can censor left types whose opinions we don’t like too. And why stop there? Let’s censor people who think God created fossils to test a Christian’s faith. Oh, and cut off people who think lime green is a great color for sweaters too.”

What makes this argument logically fallacious is that it avoids engaging with the issue at hand and instead shifts attention to extreme hypotheticals. No proof is presented to show that such extreme hypotheticals will, in fact, occur. It asserts an inevitability without evidence.

What little evidence we have on hand argues argues the opposite. Twitter has already suspended about 235,00 accounts from Isis and others promoting terrorism, and recently suspended high-profile accounts associated with the white nationalist alt-right movement that strongly supports Trump.

Nonetheless, as of yet there is no evidence that Twitter has suspended, or is making any attempt to suspend, accounts promoting the idea that God made fossils to suspend a Christian’s faith or that lime green is a great color for sweaters.

5) The “Marketplace Of Ideas” Is A Myth

Let me finish up with another argument against suspending Trump’s account. It has less to do with the legality or morality of limiting speech, but rather the political benefits that will accrue to Trump’s opponents of allowing him to speak as much as possible. A Facebook commenter writes:

“I like him demonstrating, in a savable format, just how ridiculous he is on an almost daily basis.”

Here’s another:

“I think we let him rant wherever and whenever he likes – eventually it will cause his undoing… she said hopefully

This argument rest upon a myth, namely, “The Marketplace of Ideas.” We’ve all heard it, and it goes something like this: We should shed light on all points-of-view; good ideas will push out bad ideas; light is the greatest disinfectant of falsehood.”

Sad to say, the evidence we’ve seen over the last year points to the opposite. There was no shortage of “good ideas” that accurately reported on Trump and his history. Yet a great many Americans ignored these and took at face value the falsehoods pushed through a plethora of fake news sites not to mention the Trump campaign itself.

It appears that bad ideas actually push out good ideas. Light doesn’t disinfect falsehood, but helps promote it.

Suspending Trump’s Twitter Account Is The Right Thing To Do

Donald Trump has used Twitter to lie, bully, distract and confuse. We can only expect this to increase when he assumes the Presidency.

As the weight of each word a U.S. President utters can have enormous consequences, especially for our national security, Twitter should not be in the business of enabling the incontinent sputtering of a dangerous and immensely powerful narcissist.

They should suspend his account immediately.

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