Trump supporters storming the Capitol Building, Washington, January 6
TWITTER CEO Jack Dorsey came out with a statement on January 13th in which he said that the platform was not proud of permanently removing US President Donald Trump. While arguing that what they did was correct, he said it set a dangerous precedent. The short answer to that is if you know the precedent being set is dangerous, don’t set it. Because, while the shock of the attack on Capitol Hill might have allowed them to get away with it, the enormity of what has been done is inescapable. A private company has decided to make an elected head of state an outcast and have got away with it. Other social media companies have also taken similar actions against Trump.
This might seem acceptable because of his character but it is good to remember some things. The social media companies themselves are not going to remain as they are today. Their CEOs will change. Their ideologies could change. And, hence, the people who they deem fit not to be present on their platforms will change. It could all go in the other direction. You might have a moment far in the future when some ultra-right-wing billionaire could take control of companies like Twitter or Facebook and then precisely these precedents will be used to deplatform liberals. By then, the idea that deplatforming is ethically questionable for a private company would not be tenable.
Dorsey claims to recognise this but he has been saying this for a long time and, meanwhile, Twitter has continued to heavily censor opinions of the right wing. Because it is backed by virtue signalling and the reasons themselves are deceptively noble (promoting violence, racism, etcetera), it also leads to herd mentality with companies like Facebook, which are more commercially driven, following suit. In the latest round, even Apple and Google have participated, and that only makes such actions even further worrisome.
Both Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store summarily removed Parler, a fast-growing Twitter alternative for the right wing, after the riots. But the worst of all was Amazon removing Parler from their servers without giving them any time to shift to another provider. That effectively took Parler offline. In this, these private companies turned another corner of authoritarianism. They are not just regulating free speech but also preventing opposing opinions from being voiced anywhere else. What is being enforced is total silence.
It is possible, as Dorsey tweeted, that this was done because of the circumstance that confronted them—‘I believe this was the right decision for Twitter. We faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance, forcing us to focus all of our actions on public safety.’ But these are undefinable general terms. Anything can be ‘extraordinary’ or ‘untenable’. They can be used against anyone at any point of time. It shouldn’t have mattered when these companies were startups, but now they are effective monopolies of online discourse. These platforms should never have been playing judge, jury and executioner of speech, but these roles are here to stay.