Outgoing US President Donald Trump has been banned from several social media platforms for inciting riots on Capitol Hill. Trump was banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram last week and yesterday he was also banned from YouTube. The bans have raised free speech concerns.
Capitol Hill Riots Cause Trump’s Ban
The tech giants behind Twitter, Facebook and Instagram banned US President Donald Trump from their social media platforms last week. This was in response to Trump’s instigation of rioting on Capitol Hill last Wednesday.
During the violence, Trump supporters stormed Capitol buildings and accessed areas normally restricted to the public. They engaged in rioting and looting and caused considerable damage to buildings. The violence also resulted in five deaths, including that of a Capitol police officer who was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher.
Over 170 people are being investigated over the violence, and 70 have been charged. The US Department of Justice is considering bringing sedition or conspiracy charges against the rioters. If found guilty, they could apparently face prison terms of up to 20 years.
Members from across the US political spectrum, and even Trump supporters, have since acknowledged that the violence was incited by Trump. Trump used social media as a weapon, urging his supporters to “fight much harder” to overturn US election results and keep him in power. He warned them: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness … you have to show strength.” He also went on to tell them that they wouldn’t have a country anymore if they didn’t “fight like hell”.
President Trump Barred from Mainstream Social Media
Trump has been barred from Twitter for life for violating its policies. Initially, he was only suspended for a twelve-hour period resulting from a tweet that Twitter considered violated its Civic Integrity Policy. This policy aims to uphold civic processes such as censuses, referendums and political elections. However, last week he was banned permanently from Twitter over fears he may incite further violence.
Other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, also took Trump offline last week during the height of the riots. He is barred from these platforms for the rest of his presidency, which ends on 20 January.
This week YouTube was forced to also ban Trump from its platform until 20 January, at a minimum. If it did not do so, civil rights groups threatened to organize a YouTube advertisements boycott. The ban followed the upload of a video onto YouTube by Trump on Tuesday. In this video he states that impeaching him a second time would be “very dangerous for the USA”.
Trumps New Social Media Platform of Choice
President Trump’s barring from mainstream social media has meant that his new platform of choice has become Parler. Parler is a social media platform mainly used by conspiracy theorists, right‑wing extremists and a large number of Trump supporters. It’s founded on the principle of “free speech” and has weak self-regulation and integrity policies. Consequently, users can say what they want on it.
However, following Trump’s announcement that he was moving to Parler, various online stores banned the downloading of Parler within the US. Parler was pulled from Google’s Play Store citing that “robust” content moderation was currently needed. Apple, on the other hand, has given Parler 24 hours to submit a detailed moderation plan. If it doesn’t do so, Parler will be banned from the Apple Store indefinitely.
These measures were implemented after it came to light that Parler had been used by Trump supporters to coordinate the US Capitol’s siege.
Free Speech Concerns
Social media platforms’ decision to ban Trump has set off a free speech controversy. Some free speech advocates believe that tech giants should not be the ones deciding whether anyone should be banned. They advocate that free speech limitations must be imposed by society as a whole. And that it should be based on law with the involvement of the courts. Consequently, some free speech advocates have described Trump’s ban from social media platforms as censorship.
Other members of society believe that if someone incites violence, then they automatically loose their right to free speech. Regardless of whether this is imposed by a court or tech giants.
The recent move by these technology companies shows that online platforms welcome debate. However, it also shows that they will draw the line when debates involve inciting violence.