After the recent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Twitter permanently suspended former President Donald Trump's account as well as thousands of others, citing a violation of its terms and conditions through tweets inciting violence or related to hate speech.
Twitter suspended Trump’s account two days following the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Twitter cited various reasons for this initial ban, though two tweets in particular stood out:
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Since Twitter began their spree of suspensions, there has been debate over whether user bans are a violation of free speech. Communication professor David Munson, Ph.D., said that the primary reason for these bans are because of potentially violent speech in the tweets.
“The justification that Twitter used for banning Trump was for the threat of language, not just the potential for inciting violence,” Munson said. “If the words themselves are categorically dangerous as predetermined [by a committee], then there is nothing wrong in consequentially reacting to them.”
The banning of Trump, not to mention the thousands of other suspended accounts, has the potential to create a number of issues in the future, Munson said. He said he believes Twitter has set a precedent after this ban because they have shown the world that they are capable of silencing whatever they want, regardless of if it is a single tweet or a major world leader.
“Once you give an inch, they will take a mile. When you set a precedent such as this large scale ban, it is almost normalized,” Munson said. “If you can do it once, you can do it again. The danger behind that is uncontrollable.”
While Twitter might have set a precedent by enacting the power they have as a private corporation, journalism professor Tom Burton said he sees things in a different light.
“You can look at it in the way that once you set a precedent, that means going forward it doesn’t change,” Burton said. “You can look at it on the other side of things, if you look at any culture you have laws and cultural standards. Those exist because previously someone did something that threatened the culture. You don’t have laws for things that people don’t do.”
Twitter has taken the international spotlight for the actions they have presented in the last few weeks. Because of this spotlight, the question of whether social media companies have the right to enact such bans at their own discretion arises. Communication professor Heidi Campbell, Ph.D., said she believes these social media companies are well within their rights to enact whatever suspensions they deem necessary.
“Digital commercial platforms are free to set the standards of things that are or aren’t allowed, and if you violate the rules multiple times they have the right to take you off,” Campbell said. “Getting kicked off is due to a repeated offense. People are being banned after a series of bad behaviors.”
The downward spiral of the events that have shaped the beginning of 2021 have created controversy between Democrats and Republicans in terms of the ethics behind these social media suspensions. Twitter continues to make moves to suspend accounts that are inciting violence or fall into the category of hate speech.
“As long as Twitter is doing [suspensions] consistently and equally, it isn’t as problematic as people are making it out to be,” Campbell said.