From the moment Elon Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter and impose his version of free speech, speculating on whether to let Donald Trump, Twitter’s top mocker, return to the platform. Well, the suspense is over. On Tuesday, Musk confirmed what most people suspected, announcing at Financial Times conference that would “reverse the permanent ban” on the former president’s account. Recall that Trump was ousted from Twitter on January 6, 2021, after his tweets during the Capitol riots were considered to violate Twitter rules against the glorification of violence.
As usual, the precise logic of Musk’s reasoning is difficult to follow. He previously suggested that under his ownership, Twitter would allow any content that does not violate the law. But on Tuesday, he said Twitter should still delete tweets or temporarily suspend accounts “if they say something that is illegal or otherwise, you know, destructive to the world.” In case it was too precise, he added: “If there are incorrect and bad tweets, they should be deleted or made invisible, and a suspension, a temporary suspension, is appropriate, but not a permanent ban.”
In any case, deleting tweets that are “wrong and bad” suggests a broader and easier-to-abuse content moderation standard than Twitter is currently deploying. (Incorrect and bad by whom?) The most likely explanation for Musk’s contradictory statements is that this is simply being invented as it goes and he hasn’t seriously thought about how content rules should work on the social platform that is trying to spend $ 44. billion to buy. And yet buried in Musk’s free word salad is a crouton of wisdom worth chewing. Maybe Twitter should really rethink the use of permanent bans, not just for Trump, but for everyone.
Trump’s Twitter ban has always been difficult to analyze. An equally valid set of competitive values point in conflicting directions. On the one hand, Twitter is a private company that can do whatever it wants. On the other hand, it plays an important role in American politics and public debate, so its choices have far-reaching consequences that affect the functioning of democracy in the United States. On the one hand, the public has a particularly strong interest in listening to what political figures have to say; if the president has disturbed or hateful beliefs, this is important information to know. On the other hand, there is something indecent about exempting the most powerful members of society from the rules that ordinary people must follow. Mostly because there are violations of the rules by someone in Trump’s position month dangerous than by some random Twitter user.
Getting rid of permanent bans offers a way to square these seemingly incompatible positions: in general, don’t distribute lifetime bans to average users. o political figures. Twitter’s permanent ban is a harsh condemnation. The platform occupies a unique place in American political life, which is precisely why Trump and other political figures are so obsessed with it. It is where the hyper-educated “elite” that disproportionately constitutes the political class, especially the media, devotes too much time and attention.
This is unfortunate, but it is the reality. If you want important people in the media and politics to pay attention to your ideas, the best and most direct way to do that is to get on their Twitter channels. Cutting someone off from Twitter, or other major social platforms, can seriously limit their ability to engage in public debate. As the Supreme Court declared in 2016, “to completely exclude access to social media is to prevent the user from participating in the legitimate exercise of the rights of the First Amendment.” This referred to an act of government, not a decision of private execution. This distinction is important for legal purposes, but from the user’s perspective, the impact is the same regardless of who makes the ban. (Facebook initially shut down Trump’s account “indefinitely” after the riots, but later accepted the Facebook Supervisory Board’s recommendation to re-examine his case after a two-year suspension. YouTube has not said nothing about whether or when he will let Trump return to office). platform.)