One month ago, an insurrection took place at the US Capitol building in Washington D.C., lead by those who believed former President Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Many of these rioters took inspiration and justification for their actions from comments made by Donald Trump on social media. The former president has made many comments on these sites claiming election fraud, silencing of conservative political beliefs, and expressing disappointment in former Vice President Mike Pence for not trying to overturn these results. As a result, many social media platforms have taken action in response to the insurrection.
Here is a brief list of the actions that six different social media platforms, among others, have taken against the former president:
- Twitter: Twitter has permanently banned Trump from their platform. They released a statement detailing that “After a close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” He had previously been temporarily banned from Twitter after violating their Civic Integrity policy.
- Facebook: While the original plan was to block Donald Trump until President Joe Biden and his administration took office, this ban has been extended indefinitely. A statement has been made by Mark Zuckerberg stating “Over the last several years, we have allowed President Trump to use our platform consistent with our own rules … But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving the use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
- Instagram: Similar to Facebook, Trump has been banned from Instagram at least until the end of his term and is currently still banned.
- Parler: Parler is a social media platform that many people go to express their political beliefs with one another, this platform is especially popular among Trump supporters. Recently there has been concern that this app was used to plan the insurrection on the Capitol and was being used to plan further violence. As a result, Google and Apple have pulled the app from their stores, with the former pulling the app until a content moderation plan has been developed.
- YouTube: While Donald Trump’s channel has not been deleted, YouTube has been more strict in regulating the content that is produced. For example, the service has taken down a video where the former president was sympathizing with the Capitol rioters.
Some have argued that these social media platforms have violated Donald Trump’s First Amendment rights. However, the First Amendment only gives people protection against government censorship, allowing private companies to ban users that violate their terms of service. In addition, whether or not government censorship can be applied in this case is debatable, due to the fact that this speech has resulted, either directly or indirectly, in violence. These companies didn’t take action against the former president because they disagreed with his political views but because people interpreted these messages as a call to commit insurrection on the Capitol building, threatening the lives of many government officials, including the former Vice President Mike Pence. As well as, to prevent any future messages from being perceived as a reason to incite more violence. These platforms also reserve the right to moderate shared content on their apps because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
These social media apps also have grounds to restrict Trump from their platforms due to previous violations to the terms of service, including spreading false information. However, these comments have never been seen as a threat to public safety. These restrictions also have not taken away all of Trump’s modes of expressing his opinion, as he reserves the right to make public speeches and statements.
While Trump’s removal from social media has provoked debate, this discourse is necessary in order to properly address when censorship is appropriate. These events have also brought much-needed discussion on social media moderation and whether companies should be allowed to reserve the right to moderate content and to what extent.