In an unprecedented move, Twitter banned US President Donald Trump from the platform on Friday, stating that two of his tweets were “highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.”
Twitter stated that Trump’s tweets — one about his voters having a “giant voice” in the future and another stating he will not attend the inauguration — “must be read in the context of broader events in the country”, including the recent incident of a mob storming the US Capitol on January 6 as President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory was being certified by Congress.
Trump attempted to circumvent the ban by tweeting on the @POTUS handle that Twitter “has gone further and further in banning free speech”, but the company removed his posts almost immediately.
In response to Twitter’s decision, the US President wrote in a statement on Friday, “Twitter is not about FREE SPEECH. They are all about promoting a Radical Left platform…”
The decision brought a divergence of opinions in India, where political parties allege partisan decision-making by the social media giant.
Amit Malviya, BJP IT cell head, tweeted: “Deplatforming Donald Trump, a sitting US president, sets a dangerous precedent. It has less to do with his views and more to do with intolerance for a differing point. Ironically, those who claim to champion free speech are celebrating. Big tech firms are now the new oligarchs.”
BJP MP from Karnataka and the party’s youth wing president Tejasvi Surya called it a threat to democracy. Tagging the Ministry of Electronics & IT’s handle, Surya said in multiple tweets, “This must be wake up call for all who don’t yet understand threat to our democracies by unregulated big tech companies. If they can do this to POTUS, they can do this to anyone. Sooner India reviews intermediaries regulations, better for our democracy. I don’t want Twitter to ban anyone – Congressi or BJP or anyone. Freedom of Expression (FoE) is sacrosanct. It cannot be curtailed whimsically by pvt big tech companies without accountability…”
Praveen Chakravarty, who heads Congress’s data analytics, however, told The Indian Express: “There is a saying ‘no point in locking the stable after the horses have bolted.’ I think social media, broadly speaking, has allowed this to go on for far too long. I welcome the decision not so much for what it does to President Trump but what it does as a signal that you cannot abuse and put an entire society at risk in the guise of free speech.”
Asked how social media companies have acted in India, Chakravorty said: ‘Very irresponsibly. But Twitter doesn’t matter here. What do you do about WhatsApp? It is being used with the guise of free speech and the guise of anonymity. It’s even more dangerous than Twitter in India.’
BJP MP and IT Parliamentary committee member Nishikant Dubey said: “They must think that the fight in society will fix this. They must have done this thinking that. But society cannot be seen by only one side.”
Aman Taneja, a senior lawyer focused on intermediary liability at tech legal firm Ikegai, said that Twitter has been the company most willing to take these positions, demonstrating that platforms are beginning to realise the power they have to amplify voices. “As far as its meaning for India, with this debate here about what to do about platforms gaining more power in India, the lesson is that platforms need to be more consistent and transparent with how they make decisions,” he said.
Both leading up to and throughout Trump’s presidency, Twitter has been his communication medium of choice, bypassing mainstream US media outlets to speak directly to over 88 million followers and to steer international coverage with his often late-night, breaking news tweets. In the run-up to the January 6 incident in Washington, Trump’s supporters used social media extensively to plan, especially conversing on new right-wing social media sites Parler and Gab. Google suspended Parler from its Play Store, while Apple sent the platform a warning letter.
In December, Trump had tweeted: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
Throughout last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and the US elections, the companies have been in the spotlight for their shifting decisions and reactions to Trump’s online content. In June, Twitter was the first to make another unprecedented decision: to flag one of Trump’s tweets as inflammatory. The move led to internal and external debate at Facebook, after which the company began labeling and deleting the President’s posts later in the election season.
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