Friday, January 8th, 2021, the sitting President of the United States, Donald J. Trump had his personal Twitter Account deleted on the grounds that his tweets had successfully incited a take over of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C on Wednesday, January 6th, by a delusional group of Trump fanatics and conspiracy theorists and that his continuing tweets over the following two days continued to incite violence.
It was long coming.
Donald Trump was hated by those in Silicon Valley, but his status as first, Candidate for the Presidency of the United States, and then, President of the United States, gave him a certain immunity. Special Status afforded owing to the complex interaction of power at play between private companies and government magistrates, particularly those involving speech and expression.
While Silicon Valley had mainly restrained themselves with playing at the margins of censorship for 5 years, algorithmically suppressing stories deemed “fake news” and deplatforming the occasional “conspiracy theorist,” a massive shift in policy emerged in March of 2020.
COVID-19 had achieved pandemic scale and had spread meaningfully to US shores. In the rising public anxiety, corporations such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, took it upon themselves to begin more aggressively separating the wheat from the chaff regarding Coronavirus information. Statements detected as “misleading” would be flagged and the user would be directed to more “authoritative sources such as the WHO or CDC.
The rollout was swift and non-negotiable. It was, of course, for the public good and a pressing global emergency. In fact a great deal of people in the public, influential or otherwise, supported the move. In a situation where misinformation could kill exponentially, was this small intrusion not acceptable? Exclamation points appearing on “disputed posts” and ban threats for posting “misinformation,” had become normalized. Living under an open mass censorship schema had become justified and celebrated.
Still, the President himself largely escaped direct censorship. While ideas and sound bites he advocated for would often get flagged (Hydroxychloroquine) when disseminated by his supporters (as unfortunately, like all things in the United States, COVID-19 quickly come to be viewed through the prism of politics), he himself maintained his special privilege.
That would last about a month. On May 26th, 2020 two tweets by President Trump were overtly flagged by Twitter for the first time.
Here the Rubicon had been crossed. Twitter had freed itself from its self imposed shackles and moved to suppress the reach and influence of the President of the United States. What made the added exclamation points all the more ominous was the fact that Trump’s tweet wasn’t spreading obvious Coronavirus misinformation, but was instead speaking out about potential voter security issues regarding mass mail balloting which was being advocated as a solution to COVID-19 restrictions. It was not in public health that Twitter would make its stand, but politics.
From that day on, Twitter would grow ever more aggressive in it’s attempted throttling of the President, flagging almost every tweet with a disclaimer and even going so far as to prevent President Trump from being retweeted entirely. The rest of Silicon Valley saw the signal and moved to close ranks and began moving to repress thought and discussion which questioned the validity of mail in balloting. After November 3rd, when President Trump moved to contest the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election, the censorship began reaching a frenzied pitch. As the President’s movement to have him declared the winner of the election grew, Silicon Valley tightened the screws harder and harder.
But rather than suppressing the message of Donald Trump, all it did was serve to amply the anger. Each individual message had it’s reach curtailed, but the energy behind it, that there was a stolen election, that the forces of the government and the media and the “Swamp” were all in collusion to “steal the election,” was there.
The United States was an open society. Speech is (or at least was) exceptionally valued and protected. The freedom given to Speech is found almost nowhere else on Earth. Speech which would land a person in prison elsewhere is declared sacrosanct in the United States. The act of censorship worked to confirm the President’s allegations in the minds of his supporters and radicalized millions into seeing their deepest shadowy conspiracy theories as reality.
Why else would you suppress if not to hide?
They had already seen an organized attempt by the opposition Democrats and media to bring down the President through a thoroughly debunked Russian Collusion narrative, going so far as to foment enough anger and rage to whip the votes to impeach him just that year. They had seen Supporters of the President get beaten and bloodied at rallies and events, in the streets, and in their towns. They had seen what seemed like the entire world against not just their President, but against them as human beings.
The active and unified suppression by Silicon Valley was gasoline on the fire.
Perhaps President Trump himself was an inside man looking out. With every flag of his own tweets, with every new tactic rolled out to shut him down, it only served to convince him that he was being systematically robbed of the Presidency.
Rather than allowing the President and his supporters to move through the stages of grief naturally and without interference, they tried to crush them. The muzzle might have slightly muted the barking, but it only kept the rage inside, culminating in tens of thousands of people lashing out on January 6th, demanding that they be heard, storming the steps of the Capitol Building and trying to invade the Congressional Chambers.
It was not simply censorship that led to the January 6th occupation. There were a great myriad of reasons. President Donald Trump himself shoulders a large amount of blame. But it’s effects cannot simply be dismissed. Silicon Valley may hold many values above freedom of speech, but for much of America, and in particular Republican leaning America, Freedom of Speech and Expression is sacrosanct. To be shut down by supposed authorities for the “greater good,” serves to do nothing more than to enrage.
And now, Silicon Valley as punishment has moved to not simply nudge soon to be former President Trump and his supporters away from their views, but to simply unperson them entirely; hoping that by purging the President of the United States and anyone who their algorithm thinks is likely a core supporter, that a message will be sent to them and wider public.
What you think and believe is simply unacceptable.
Flagging Tweets and YouTube videos helped lead to an insurrection.
What do you suppose digital assassination will produce?