Professionalism/Suspension of @realDonaldTrump

IntroductionEdit

On January 8th, 2021, Donald J. Trump, former President of the United States, was banned from Twitter. People who are familiar with Donald Trump’s account on Twitter have an idea of how active and outspoken he was. On the day of his ban, Twitter released a statement, explaining the reason for his suspension, and the violations he had towards their rules. This ban caused a controversy within the United States, regarding freedom of speech, and what rights social media platforms have in permitting what the public can and cannot see. The ban of Donald Trump presents itself in the realm of ethics, questioning whether it was ethical for Trump to tweet personal opinions on certain topics, and whether it was ethical for Twitter to ban him because of it.

Past-2021Edit

All of Donald Trump's tweets were suspended on Twitter, but there exists an archive of every tweet he has made since 2009. Trump did not become very active on Twitter until August 2011, during the election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as Donald Trump weighed in heavily on the election during that period [1]. Once he became the president-elect in 2016, he said, “I’m going to be very restrained, if I use it at all” in an interview he had with CBS’ 60 Minutes [2]. However, Phil Helsel continues to say that by that Sunday, Trump had already contradicted himself by his calling out of the New York Times for poor coverage and false claims. This added to the bulk of many negative tweets written by Donald Trump.

From 2016 to 2020, there was a noticeable decline in positive tweets from Trump [1]. According to Kalec Leetaru, Donald Trump has had a negative tone in his tweets since he announced his candidacy in May 2015, reaching a peak low of negative tweets in January 2020. During his presidential-elect period, he was very positive, but as his first term was coming to an end, during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the turmoil from the death of George Floyd, his tweets seemed to reach an all time negative low. Equally as important, Leetaru states that the rate at which he uses capital letters in his tweets increased from 8% to 12% a week, by which one can infer as an aggressive or negative tone [1]. Even before his ban in 2021, Donald Trump had written many tweets that were deemed problematic, an unethical act for such a public figure. However, Twitter’s right to ban him can also be questioned on ethical grounds. Professor Chemerinsky, dean of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, says that “he would prefer never to see another false, misleading or incendiary tweet from Trump” and he does not favor an “anything goes” policy [3]. However, he thinks that Twitter should not have the right to regulate what the public sees. Contrarily, he says “I think Twitter is completely justified in taking down any tweets by Trump or anybody else that are regarded as incitement, threat, invasion of privacy or defamatory.” In conclusion, he suggests that more selective blocking and labeling be implemented, but admits that one could argue that Twitter had already tried that and a permanent suspension was the only option left. Therefore, the matter seems to be left at the face of opinion.

2020-2021Edit

Twitter became more active in regulating its platform in the midst of Trump’s most active year on Twitter. In March of 2020, Twitter introduced new guidelines claiming that they would “prioritize removing content when it has a clear call to action that could directly pose a risk to people’s health or well-being” [4]. Simultaneously, Donald Trump made some of his most controversial tweets in 2020. In response to protests of COVID-19 social distancing mandates, Trump issued the series of tweets shown below.

LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege! [5]

LIBERATE MICHIGAN! [6]

LIBERATE MINNESOTA! [7]

Some individuals believed that these tweets could incite violence. However, according to a spokesperson from Twitter, they did not remove the tweet since Trump’s usage of ‘liberate’ is “vague and unclear, and not something that allows us to reliably infer harmful physical intent” [8]. By the middle of 2020, Twitter was taking a firmer stance on punishing inappropriate usage. On May 11, 2020, Twitter announced that they would begin flagging tweets containing “misleading information” or a “disputed claim” [9]. Twitter’s first enactment of this policy towards Trump occurred on May 26, 2020, after he claimed that mail-in ballots will lead to fraud [10]. Three days later, Twitter hid the following tweet made by Trump [11].

"....These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!" [12]

According to Twitter, the tweet by Trump “violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today” [11].

These actions by Twitter sparked debate about Twitter's obligations as a social media platform to regulate speech on its platform . According to Twitter, "defending and respecting the user's voice is one of our core values" which is a "two-part commitment to freedom of expression and privacy" [13]. Some individuals believe that Twitter was not being consistent with these values. At the time, Trump claimed that Twitter was "completely stifling FREE SPEECH" [14]. Polls have found that Americans were split on whether social media companies need to be regulated [14]. However, the First Amendment does not affect Twitter since it is a private company that is able to regulate its content as it sees fit based on its Terms of Service [14].

This trend continued through the latter half of 2020 with increasing pressure to restrict Trump’s Twitter account. Upon his release from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Trump issued the following tweet.

"I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!" [15]

Many found this tweet to be reckless and unacceptable from Trump. In response to this, Twitter placed a warning label on Trump’s tweet but did not remove it [16]. Twitter also hid various tweets of Trump’s during and after the 2020 Presidential Election as he promoted conspiracies about election fraud.

2021-PresentEdit

On January 6th, 2021, the United States Capitol was stormed by rioters attempting to overturn Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. There were 5 deaths and over 140 people injured during the armed standoffs. Bombs were discovered near the Capitol as well, but they were never set off [17].

In the statement by Twitter concerning the permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump, two tweets were highlighted, shown below.

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” (Trump, 2021a). “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.” [18].

Twitter decided that these tweets were in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy, when viewed in the context of the “broader events in the country” and considering the “ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences” [19].

Justifications for this decision were based on the propensity for these tweets to “encourage and inspire” people to perform violent acts. In the first tweet, according to Twitter, using the words “American Patriots” to describe his supporters declares Donald Trump’s approval of the US Capitol riots. It also indicates that former president Trump did not want to proceed with an orderly transition of power. The second tweet, according to Twitter, was received by his supporters as confirming the results of the 2020 presidential election as being illegitimate [19]. Overall, they acted to encourage and support the violent raiding of the US Capitol in order to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. These tweets are the main cause of Trump’s permanent suspension from Twitter.

Twitter had allowed Donald Trump’s account to stand, even through flagrant violations of Twitter’s policy, due to his position as a world leader. Twitter had justified this as being in the interest of defending free speech. Trump had used Twitter throughout his term as a method of communicating with the press and the public. However, after increasing pressure from US lawmakers, Twitter employees, and many others, Donald Trump’s account was suspended indefinitely [20].

ConclusionEdit

Donald Trump’s tweets and account were allowed to stand because of his position as a world leader. Twitter policy violations were allowed, much more so than for normal users, because Trump’s tweets were considered “newsworthy” and were a primary method for communicating with the press and his supporters. However, his actions eventually became too dangerous in the eyes of Twitter executives and he was permanently suspended from the platform [19]. This has led to some controversy, as social media platforms are now able to determine what constitutes “free speech”, a traditionally governmental role. The circumstances around Donald Trump’s suspension from Twitter have highlighted the control corporations have over society and how their actions have real consequences on governments.

However, Trump was a source of controversy for years, and Twitter has always had the authority to punish his violations while using their platform. Some feel that Twitter could have potentially mitigated the damage of Trump's tweets by taking action sooner [21]. Jack Dorsey, Cofounder and CEO of Twitter, acknowledged some of these concerns in the following tweet:

Yes, we all need to look critically at inconsistencies of our policy and enforcement. Yes, we need to look at how our service might incentivize distraction and harm. Yes, we need more transparency in our moderation operations. All this can’t erode a free and open global internet. [22]

This also presents an ethical challenge for Twitter to determine what standard its users are held to regardless of social status. From a business perspective, Twitter's goal is to maintain a strong user base. Criticism over free speech, especially from other world leaders such as Chancellor Merkell, can drive users away from their platform [23]. The circumstances surrounding Donald Trump's suspension from Twitter also highlight the ethical dilemmas that come with balancing business and public interests.

ReferencesEdit

  1. a b c Leetaru, K. (2021, January 20). Donald Trump's TWEETS: What we can learn from a 12-YEAR timeline of @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.masslive.com/politics/2021/01/donald-trumps-tweets-what-we-can-learn-from-a-12-year-timeline-of-realdonaldtrump-twitter-account.html
  2. Helsel, P. (2017, February 08). Trump tells '60 MINUTES' he will be restrained on Twitter as president, then tweets Slamming nyt. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/trump-tells-60-minutes-he-will-be-restrained-twitter-president-n683076
  3. Iovino, N. (2021, January 15). Twitter’s Trump Ban Sets Dangerous Precedent for Free Speech, Legal Scholar Warns. Courthouse News Service. https://www.courthousenews.com/twitters-trump-ban-sets-dangerous-precedent-for-free-speech-legal-scholar-warns/
  4. Vijaya, & Derella, M. (2020, March 16). An update on our continuity strategy during COVID-19. Twitter. https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/An-update-on-our-continuity-strategy-during-COVID-19.html
  5. Trump, D. [@realDonaldTrump]. (2020, April 17). LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege! [Tweet]. Twitter. https://www.thetrumparchive.com/?searchbox=%22liberate%22
  6. Trump, D. [@realDonaldTrump]. (2020a, April 17). LIBERATE MICHIGAN! [Tweet]. Twitter. https://www.thetrumparchive.com/?searchbox=%22liberate%22
  7. Trump, D. [@realDonaldTrump]. (2020b, April 17). LIBERATE MINNESOTA! [Tweet]. Twitter. https://www.thetrumparchive.com/?searchbox=%22liberate%22
  8. Brest, M. (2020, April 18). “Vague and unclear”: Twitter rules Trump “liberate” tweet doesn’t violate coronavirus guidelines. Washington Examiner. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/vague-and-unclear-twitter-rules-trump-liberate-tweet-doesnt-violate-coronavirus-guidelines
  9. Roth, Y., & Pickles, N. (2020, May 11). Updating our approach to misleading information. Twitter. https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/product/2020/updating-our-approach-to-misleading-information.html
  10. Mangan, D., & Breuninger, K. (2020, May 27). Twitter fact-checks Trump, slaps warning labels on his tweets about mail-in ballots. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/26/twitter-fact-checks-trump-slaps-warning-labels-on-his-tweets-about-mail-in-ballots.html
  11. a b Hamilton, I. A. (2020, May 29). Twitter slapped a “glorifying violence” label on a Trump tweet that threatened George Floyd protesters in Minneapolis with getting shot. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.nl/twitter-warning-trump-tweet-george-floyd-glorifying-violence-2020-5?international=true&r=US
  12. Trump, D. [@realDonaldTrump]. (2020d, May 29). . . ..These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim [Tweet]. Twitter. https://www.thetrumparchive.com/?searchbox=%22shooting+starts%22
  13. Twitter Help Center. (2021, April 2). Twitter’s free speech and rights of people | Twitter Help. Twitter.Com. https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/defending-and-respecting-our-users-voice
  14. a b c Phillips, A. (2020, May 29). No, Twitter is not violating Trump’s freedom of speech. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/29/no-twitter-did-not-violate-trumps-freedom-speech/
  15. Trump, D. [@realDonaldTrump]. (2020e, October 5). I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid [Tweet]. Twitter. https://www.thetrumparchive.com/?searchbox=%22Feeling+really+good%22
  16. Haltiwanger, J. (2020, October 5). Trump tweets that he’s leaving the hospital and says “don’t be afraid of Covid,” a virus that’s killed over 209,000 Americans. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-downplays-covid-19-while-announcing-hell-leave-hospital-2020-10?international=true&r=US&IR=T
  17. Petras, G. J. L. (2021, February 9). Timeline: How the storming of the U.S. capitol unfolded on Jan. 6. USA Today. https://eu.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/2021/01/06/dc-protests-capitol-riot-trump-supporters-electoral-college-stolen-election/6568305002/
  18. Trump, D. [@realDonaldTrump]. (2021b, January 8). To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th. [Tweet]. Twitter.
  19. a b c Twitter. (2021). Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump. https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/suspension.html
  20. Conger, K., & Isaac, M. (2021, January 13). Trump’s twitter account permanently suspended. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/08/technology/twitter-trump-suspended.html
  21. Herrman, J. (2021, January 15). Donald Trump’s Twitter: What Happened? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/12/style/trump-twitter-ban.html
  22. Dorsey, J. [@jack]. (2021, January 13). Yes, we all need to look critically at inconsistencies of our policy and enforcement. Yes, we need to look at [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/jack/status/1349510777254756352
  23. Foy, H. (2021, January 11). Angela Merkel attacks Twitter over Trump ban. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/6146b352-6b40-48ef-b10b-a34ad585b91a