Lasting Effect, Impact on Free Speech Remains Uncertain

D. Kevin McNeir
Executive Editor, New Jersey Urban News
@dkevinmcneir

Twitter recently and permanently suspended President Donald Trump’s account, @realDonaldTrump, citing a pattern of behavior that violated company rules. The action serves as the most sweeping punishment any major social media company has ever taken against Trump, who has used his Twitter account to announce White House policy, attack rivals and widely disseminate misinformation.

Twitter has long been pressured to either limit the reach of Trump’s tweets or to ban him due to a multitude of false claims. And while Twitter’s officials have supported Trump’s right to maintain an account, their stance changed following the violent riots that overtook the Capitol on Jan. 6 after numerous posts attempted to derail the result of the presidential election.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company said in a statement. 

Trump said Twitter’s decision has silenced him and his supporters, “the 75,000,000 great patriots who voted for me,” and in a written statement accused the social media company of banning free speech. 

In related news, on Jan. 11, Twitter purged more than 70,000 accounts affiliated with conspiracy theory QAnon following the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol in efforts “to protect the conversation on our service from attempts to incite violence, organize attacks and share deliberately misleading information about the election outcome.” The company said it began suspending the accounts on Jan. 8, citing an increased risk of harm between online speech and real-world events. 

Meanwhile, Amazon, Twitter and other tech companies continue to face blowback for other efforts to address harmful content online – including decisions to ban Trump and numerous websites that had glorified the violent mob which assaulted the Capitol last week. The aforementioned platforms have banned now banned Trump and his allies. Twitter was Trump’s preferred means of ramping up attacks on his adversaries, spreading conspiracies and provoking other nations during his four years in the White House. 

It’s an unprecedented moment for tech platforms that have simultaneously faced pressure to restrict misinformation and hate speech and to defend free speech.  other.

Twitter was Trump’s preferred channel for amplifying attacks on his rivals, spreading conspiracies and provoking other nations during his four years in power.

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