The People vs Donald Trump vs Twitter
This story was originally published on BoingBoing.
We need to get Donald Trump off Twitter before he gets us all killed.
On September 23, 2017 he declared war on North Korea.
Now, US Presidents declaring war is nothing new. It’s a thing they do. (Although Congress does like to be somewhat involved.) But from what I remember of history, this is a power that Presidents used to take very seriously. Both Roosevelt and Wilson famously wavered back and forth on whether to enter the World Wars. And, of course, Lincoln’s nightmares about (rightfully) taking the US down a path that was guaranteed to start a Civil War is the stuff of legend. Normally, the power to take a nation to war is not to be taken lightly.
Our current president did it in a tweet:
Now you can argue whether that is, in fact, a declaration of war (some of you will pedantically and annoyingly argue that technically we are still at war with North Korea), but in the end what matters is whether the other nation sees it that way. In this case, that other nation is North Korea. And they, in fact, saw it as a clear declaration of war. Ultimately, the people who launch the bombs have final say. And ultimately, the people those bombs are aimed at pay the final price.
Those are the people I worry about. And selfishly speaking, I worry that me and mine might be included in that group. But feel free to replace me and mine with you and yours because we’re all fucked.
We have an unstable president. And the first thing you do with unstable people is you take away their tools for hurting themselves and others.
Donald Trump has been violating Twitter’s “rules” for years. Calling out individuals, entire ethnic groups, dogwhistling his violent white supremacist base, taking on a Gold Star family, a US judge of Mexican heritage, retweeting a gif of Hillary Clinton being attacked, going after journalists. This is hardly acceptable behavior for a regular human being, much less a US President. And Twitter has, rightfully albeit slowly, banned other users for similar behavior.
So why hasn’t Donald Trump been kicked off for his violent threats? He agreed to the same terms of service we all did when he signed up.
On September 25, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone finally addressed the issue in a short tepidly-written piece on Medium. You can go read the whole thing in under a minute. But here’s the interesting and scary as shit part:
“This has long been internal policy and we’ll soon update our public-facing rules to reflect it.”
It’s almost a throwaway line. But it holds a very important key to Twitter’s thinking. In short: we will move the goalposts accordingly. Twitter is updating their policy to explicitly avoid banning trump. They’ve done it in the past and they’ll continue to do so. At the same time they will also tell you that Donald Trump is held to the same rules as all other users.
After reading Biz’ piece on Medium I told him it sounded hollow. Actually, to be completely transparent, I told him it was “100% bullshit”. His reply:
Changing the rules to fit the situation is the exact opposite of principles, and the exact meaning of subjectivity. It’s cowardly. And it’s opportunistic.
Biz also argues that Trump’s tweets are newsworthy. And I don’t disagree. It’s newsworthy to see if a president starts a war on your platform. In fact, it’s a media coup. Take that, Facebook! Alas, Twitter isn’t a media company, if they were they’d know that the function of a media company isn’t to create news. The “newsworthiness” value is a newspaper media value. It has meaning in that setting. According to my friend Ross Floate, who unlike me, actually has a journalism degree, that meaning is derived from three values — Significance, Timeliness, and Proximity. “Newsworthiness” isn’t “this is used to break news”. Using the value as they describe it makes all hate speech protected — if I threaten to murder you and then follow through, that’s certainly newsworthy. Proper “Newsworthiness” is not a something that an algorithm does on the fly. It’s a human value judgement. Also, The “newsworthy” argument isn’t in their terms of service right now either. According to Biz Stone’s Medium piece, they’ll be adding it soon. Again, they’re updating their policy to explicitly avoid having to ban Trump.
Donald Trump is the asshole in the corner screaming at everyone and grabbing every woman’s ass and telling the bartender not to serve the darkies.
I’m assuming that one of the principles Biz believes he is referring to is free speech. I’m a big fan of free speech as well. (I tend to curse a lot.) But free speech isn’t free of repercussion. Also, the First Amendment, which is very short and to the point, states that the government can’t restrict your speech. It doesn’t apply to Twitter, which is a private service. You know how bartenders can kick you out of a bar for being a belligerent dick? They have a right to do that. You don’t have the right to be a belligerent dick in their bar. Twitter has a right to kick you out of their private service for acting like a belligerent dick too. Donald Trump is the asshole in the corner screaming at everyone and grabbing every woman’s ass and telling the bartender not to serve the darkies. And Twitter thinks that guy is the reason people go to the bar. Twitter believes it’s protecting free speech, but it’s really protecting that belligerent dick at the bar, at the expense of the other patrons. That’s not a principled stance. That’s a cowardly act.
I get that twitter needs users, and it needs eyeballs to survive. And the Trump Twitter economy is strong. According to Fortune, Trump is worth about $2 billion to Twitter. So say that, Biz. Tell us this is a business decision. (A horrible one, to be sure.) But please don’t wrap yourself in principle. Tell us you die without him.
Just know that in order to save yourselves, you’re sentencing us to die with him.