“Don’t give hate a platform!” This audacious remark is only one of the taglines of countless petitions launched at Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to deplatform or ban Donald Trump from their social media sites.
When I first began to read these petitions, I scoffed at the sheer simple-mindedness of such a goal; now unfortunately, it is no longer a laughing matter. Perhaps it is just naïveté, but I had hoped such a movement, no matter the target, would not gain traction in a free society such as ours.
My optimism was ill-placed.
Since the election, Twitter has begun to fact-check President Trump’s outrageous tweets and qualify at the bottom as to the validity of such statements. They also include a wide range of expert opinion and legitimate sources that anyone can view for themselves. At first, I felt somewhat concerned that a private company and social media site would take on the task of informing citizens about what is “true,” but after a few weeks of observing it in real time, it seems to be a fair process which simply gives the viewer an opportunity to research his claims on their own.
The only criticism one may emphasize would be its apparent impartiality regarding who is fact checked and who receives these warnings of disputed claims. While it is perfectly reasonable to present the challenging arguments to unsubstantiated claims from Trump, it has to be consistent in its intent, with no deviation based on political stance. If the President is to receive them, it has to be a fair process which does not favor a particular political leaning or candidate, meaning all politicians who profess dubious allegations should also be flagged. If a double-standard is allowed, it corrupts the entire process until it devolves into a tool of political propaganda, as well as undermining the original integrity of the warnings.
Unfortunately, it seems that this is not enough for the vocal minority. Petitions are beginning to request that these media sites actively censor Donald Trump and retract his privilege to use social media as a way of conversing with the nation.
It is important to acknowledge that nearly all of the claims in Trump’s tweets are unfounded and are just his own personal objections to the outcome of the election, not legitimate facts. The claims he makes should be researched and proven to be true or false; presenting them to the American public as fact is a very dangerous game to play. There are many uninformed citizens who see the president’s brazen allegations and accept them as fact instead of doing their own due diligence. When confronted with such realities, listing credible sources to refer to is not inherently evil.
It should also be noted that Trump’s tweets may very well be stirring the pot, if you will, of the American people’s vitriol for one another based on politics. Many of his illegitimate assertions are furthering a false narrative that is harming the nation’s collective psyche and creating a dangerous atmosphere. This is accepted and acknowledged.
The remedy, however, is not silencing it. Censorship is the tool of the despotic jackboot, of the ineffable Supreme Leader, of the angry mob. It does nothing but obscure opposing viewpoints that shake our own houses that are frequently built on sand.
I truly can understand the desire to censor. I understand the desire to stop the racist from spouting slurs at innocent people, or to curtail the sexist from making heinous remarks towards women. One should feel a revulsion to those things. They should be reprimanded and corrected, but restricting people from saying what they please is a very slippery slope, one of which you will tumble down and hit every sharp stone along the way.
Christopher Hitchens conveyed it most eloquently when he suggested that if you take away the rights of those who would wish to take them away from you, it inadvertently opens the door for it to happen in the future more ferociously, while consuming more and more each time, until dystopian literature becomes a reality. That line should never be crossed, ever. It would set an ugly precedent with consequences no one would wish to see become an everyday occurrence.
So one must question why this should not be extended to the President of the United States of America and his presence on social media. A common retort is that Twitter and Facebook are private companies and they are allowed to do whatever they want. Yes, that is true, they are private corporations who have their own rights as to how they run their business, and we forget often that it is a business. However, the Constitution is not really equipped to understand how social media would translate to First Amendment rights.
For most of us, the internet has been with us for our whole lives, so we do not often consider just how new and unexplored this frontier is in regard to how the internet intersects with U.S. law. Twitter has, for better or worse, become a legitimate platform for millions of global citizens to communicate, as well as be a main source of news. It is understood that many of Trump’s tweets likely breach Twitter’s Terms of Service, but we must acknowledge the difference between a troll bot account spamming false information and the 45th President of the United States, who was elected in a free election by the will of the People of the United States of America.
He is not merely a single useless account that should be shut down. He is, rather, the physical embodiment of a growing political movement in this country, like it or not. Quieting his indignant proclamations with censorship will have an adverse effect on his ability to garner support with unsubstantiated claims. It will whip his supporters into a frenzy of malcontentment. An apt analogy would be that of the firemen who arrive at a burning building, and instead of launching water at it, they use gasoline instead.
Cliched phrases such as “it is okay to disagree” have been sprouting up surrounding this controversy, and it is no exaggeration to state that such phrases are the most inane ramblings of them all. Of course it is okay to disagree; that is the entire point of open dialogue and a fundamental pillar of democracy. That does not, however, grant you the right to censor someone or something you find to be reprehensible. Do not forget that President Trump received more votes than any incumbent president of all time. Disagree and argue with his supporters, but do not negate them. They exist and if Trump is silenced, it will be perceived as a personal slight against them and an assault on their beliefs and values.
If you have trouble supporting an anti-censorship stance simply due to the authoritarian connotations surrounding it, at least support it because censorship and banning will only make things worse. There is, quite literally, no scenario in which censoring his tweets will solve anything.
We seem to be locked in a battle between two extreme alternatives, one being intense shouting where nothing of substance is proclaimed, and the other being the suffocation of one another so that neither is allowed to speak. Both of them are equally wrong in the same way: they are at odds with the Western philosophy of free dialogue, the building blocks of this nation.
Incorrect claims need to be fact-checked and proven wrong with intelligent and informed speech. For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump continually downplayed the seriousness of the virus, as well as criticized the countermeasures that the Centers for Disease Control recommended. Despite many experts suggesting that the use of masks would drastically lower transmission rates, he emphatically claimed that the CDC reported that 85% of people wearing masks would still become infected. Such percentages and “reports” are simply fictional storytelling, as they were never released. In fact, the CDC outright challenged them and stated that mask use is essential to battling the virus.
That is only one instance of President Trump endangering the well-being of the nation with frivolous claims of pseudoscience. Would the people suffering from this pandemic be safer and more informed if he kept his half-baked facts to himself? Yes, they would have, and no one should be disputing that. However, muting him and withdrawing his right to speak freely is at odds with the values of Western culture and open discussion. Correct him, but do not censor him. Challenge poor and incorrect claims with articulate and correct speech.
And also, wear your mask please. It actually helps despite what you might hear about the “85%.”
Ian-Michael is an Opinion Editor at the Daily Cardinal and a freshman studying Political Science and Journalism. Do you think President Trump should be banned from social media platforms? Is it an honest attempt to promote truth on social media, or a backhanded way to enforce censorship? Send all comments to email@example.com.
Ian-Michael Griffin is an Opinion Editor for The Daily Cardinal, and a member of the Editorial Board.