Twitter permanently suspended the president’s @realDonaldTrump account on Friday, depriving him of contact with his 88 million followers, with his other accounts, including @POTUS, and his campaign’s @TeamTrump, blocked as well.
For years, Trump used @realDonaldTrump as his go-to means to bypass the media filter and speak directly to the public, with Twitter pulled along for the ride, enjoying the venerated status of being the first place people checked to find out what the president was thinking about and doing. That all ended Friday.
Along with Twitter, Trump has been blocked on Facebook and Instagram. Parler, the commonly dubbed "free speech" app popular with Trump supporters, has been pulled from Google’s Play Store, ostensibly amid fears that it could be used “to incite ongoing violence in the US.” Apple has also threatened to ban the app from its App Store.
‘I Disapprove of What You Say, But Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It’ – Attributed to Voltaire
Democrats and anti-Trump pundits rushed to praise the tech giant’s decision to permanently muzzle the president, with Congressman Jamaal Bowman comparing Trump’s Twitter downfall to the capture of Saddam Hussein following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
Others, however, have expressed concerns about what a ban on Trump, who is still the democratically-elected US president, and perhaps the most powerful person in the world, will mean for ordinary people.
“Even if I don’t agree with what President Donald Trump proclaims, he should have the democratic right to communicate,” says Andy Vermaut, a Belgian human rights activist and political commentator who believes Twitter’s crusade against Trump is a violation of his fundamental rights.
Vermaut, who saw his own Facebook profile with European non-profit Postversa blocked in November 2020, and has experienced his Twitter account getting blocked repeatedly for posting alternative media content, says he's witnessed censorship firsthand, and laments that unfortunately, “no one lies awake to the undermining of our fundamental rights,” including elected officials.
Given this lack of action, the observer believes that “the real ‘deep state’ is the people who run social media and decide to muzzle, censor, and undermine people's voices,” whether it be activists like himself or the president of the United States.
“In the case of President Trump, all this is done to ‘avoid inciting riots’, but that's what they want to do now, beating him down like a savage who doesn't know what he's doing. While this president has not unleashed any real war, with the exception of trade wars, unlike other presidents of the United States,” Vermaut stresses.
Final Act of Long-Running Political Drama
Trump’s permanent Twitter ban is just the final act in a long-running spat between the president and the popular microblogging service, and was preceded by a temporary ban on Wednesday following the unrest at the Capitol, and the appearance of bold, multicoloured disclaimers on some tweets disputing his comments relating to the results of November’s presidential election before that.
‘Level of Bias Has Gone Off the Scale’
Paul Valone, a political commentator and executive director of Rights Watch International, a North Carolina-based non-profit and gun rights advocacy, fears Twitter’s decision is part of a much broader move by the American left to oppose free speech “to an extent which has never been seen in the United States, and is not unlike what we see in Communist China.”
“We're not just looking at Donald Trump. We're looking at people like Rush Limbaugh; General Michael Flynn's account was deleted, as was Sidney Powell's – the attorney who has been working on election fraud. There is a very determined effort on the part of the left to eliminate any narrative that there was fraud or malfeasance during the last American elections,” says Valone.
The political commentator is confident Trump will be able to get back on his feet and gather his base around him. “I think he'll have no trouble gathering supporters around him because the support for Donald Trump is extremely strong. If he's going to have a voice in American politics, frankly, if any of us are going to have a voice in American politics, it can only be done by starting his own platform or his own media company. Which by the way, I very much hope he does.”
Valone says the current “level of bias” in the US on social media and the mass media in general “has gone off the scale,” and is the culmination of a creeping move away from objective coverage of news events that goes back decades.
“As early as 1990 I was decrying what I then called advocacy journalism, namely the lack of objectivity in covering news.” All the major media networks, including Fox News, are guilty of such ‘advocacy journalism,'" adds the observer.
Weaponisation of Social Media
Pierluigi Paganini, a Napoli, Italy-based cybersecurity and intelligence expert, believes the real problem with Twitter’s decision on Trump wasn’t the ban itself, but the lack of coordination between the government and the private company.
“The way the President has managed the situation is not appropriate, his words have fueled the disorders and the rage of people causing the incidents we have assisted. This is the opinion of the social networks that have banned the accounts according to their policies,” he says. “The real problem is that the decision to block the account of a president has to be motivated and requested by the US Government itself and cannot be the choice of a private firm.”
Paganini says many alternatives to the social media powerhouses like Twitter and Facebook already exist, and many more are sure to be created in the near future.
“Reddit is probably an ideal candidate, it is a gift of the genius Aaron Swartz. Regarding the evolution of social media, I believe that they will continue to evolve to improve the user experience offering a new set of services that will increase their power, such as payment and e-commerce services. Anyway one of the drivers of the evolution will be the focus that some platforms on specific topics (politics, entertainment, etc.). Very interesting also decentralised social networks like Minds, Diaspora, and Mastodon,” he says.
Citing such decentralised architectures as the best protection against censorship, Paganini notes that there is a major drawback– the threat of disinformation campaigns, including those carried out by state actors. In any event, Paganini says, recent events merely serve to “confirm that social media could be weaponised.”
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.