On Trump’s Twitter Ban

President Trump has been banned from Twitter as a result of the January 6th putsch, and I gotta say something, because what I’m seeing on my twitter timeline here has gotten both absurd and toxic.  It isn’t as simple as some are making it.  I am not a free speech absolutist, and if there is any time for censoring someone, it is when that person is using a public platform to organize a fascist coup.  Moreover, on a personal level, it is hard not to feel a certain glee, both at how frustrated it must make him, and because I will no longer see people I follow quote-tweeting him in order to express pointless (if deserved) obscenities about his tweets.

But there are things we must not forget: He is being censored—this notion that its only censorship if carried out by a government ignores the entire history of censorship.  Are any of you old enough to remember when television networks would bleep out anything entertainers said against the Vietnam war?  If there is a term for that other than censorship, I’ve never heard it. Maybe censoring Trump is the right thing to do, as I said above, but let’s at least call it by its right name.

Second, he is being censored by a multi-billion dollar corporation, and anyone who thinks such a corporation has the same interests as the oppressed and exploited is being foolish at best.

Censorship, whether by government or corporation, is guaranteed to be used against the most oppressed layers of society—after all, it is those layers who carried out the fight for free speech in the first place.  So long as we live in a world controlled by an elite, that elite will use censorship as one of the tools to maintain their privileges. And it is harder to fight for the right of the oppressed to speak when the reactionaries can say, “Hey, you didn’t have a problem with censoring so-and-so just because you don’t agree with him.”  Can we please keep that in mind?

Another point is when those who call themselves leftists justify the action by saying, “But Twitter is a private corporation.”  There’s a term for this: it is called placing property rights above human rights. Are you really okay with that?  It is also answering the question, “Is it wrong?” by saying, “it’s legal.” Are you okay with that?

We are already seeing the worst aspects of this: There are attacks on the ACLU from those calling themselves leftists, there are attacks on the entire concept of free speech. There is mockery—mockery—of what the oppressed fought and died for. This is not healthy.

I want to repeat that: People identifying as leftists have mocked the very concept of free speech, and do not see anything wrong with that.

If you’re certain your speech will not be suppressed, it can only mean that you have no intention of challenging the powerful.

Once again, we are seeing the chronic disease of the political dilettante: the refusal to think things through, to examine consequences, to, as Sturgeon said, “Ask the next question.”

Bottom line: Yes, I think, under these conditions, Trump’s ban was necessary.  The right to speak is a human right, but under extraordinary conditions, human rights, even the right to life, must sometimes be set aside, and a fascist coup is an extraordinary condition if anything is.  But we need to be very careful about celebrating it, and even more careful about the generalizations we draw in order to justify it, and about when censorship is appropriate, and we need to be aware that these measures some are so pleased with will be used to muffle leftists, and anyone who takes aim at the status quo.

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26 thoughts on “On Trump’s Twitter Ban”

  1. I agree on all counts- which probably means one of us is wrong.
    I do want to mention the frustrating fact that Twitter (and Facebook, among others) profited from broadcasting Trump’s fascist musings for most of a decade. They left his account alone while he and his followers racked up a body count. And only now that the very end of that one man’s grasp on power are they willing to stand up.

    Meanwhile: his fascist collaborators and fascist hangers-on are left untouched by the corporate giants.

  2. Given your position on the cancelation of publication of Woody Allen’s latest book, I am not surprised you weighed in here to add a working-class-struggle perspective.

    I also note that Senator Hawley’s book deal was scrapped, too. I had similar mixed feelings about Hawley, and his blustery threat to sue the publishing house did little to endear me.

    I think one source of confusion in the public mind is between censorship in general and the constitutional right to free speech. The former can certainly depend on who is running the private corporation gifted the right to control our public airways, radioways, and internet; the latter prohibits the government from restricting speech beforehand, or punishing it afterwards, in most circumstances.

    It is doubtless the case that any further restrictions on civil liberties, if passed by the Democrats, will be used to vex workers, indigenous, climate protestors, anti-war protestors, and the like.

  3. I think Twitter and Facebook have become so big they are in practice, if not in law, a new form of town square. So that does make Trump’s ban censorship.

    I’d like to see this solved with some monopoly-busting against all of the big tech companies. But that’s a separate rant – and impossible dream.

  4. Some of us on the left are objecting to the ACLU’s response because it doesn’t seem strong enough. If the ACLU’s public statement had been more like what you said above, I wouldn’t complain. (From the outside, it looks as if there’s an ideology struggle within the organization between the old guard and the newer neoliberal identitarian faction.)

  5. I agree with everything you said, Steve.
    I’ll mention that it is not only Twitter that has blocked Trump and that the whole parler site seems to be in the process of not finding it has a host anymore.
    As you said above, I can’t find that I have many tears for any of this. When you try to stage a fascist coup, you’ll find out there are consequences. If the coup had succeeded I’m pretty sure we would be finding a lot of extremely bad consequences.
    Once you commit multiple felonies and act with the intention of harming people you are no longer engaging if freely protected activities.

  6. I’m pretty sure that Trump’s ban was not necessary to stop Trump. It’s more a recognition that he IS stopped. That he’s the lamest of lame ducks. If the people who did it thought there was a plausible chance that he would come back and punish them, they wouldn’t do it.

    This is the part of the WWE ritual where the loser snarls and grimaces while they shave his head. He can’t do anything about it but shout defiance.

    I’m glad to see Steven take an ethical and compassionate stand. Yes, the elites will do whatever they want to the disadvantaged and they will dress it up in fine language if they bother to mention it at all.

    We’ve seen what they intend for free speech by their response to Assange.

  7. Jonah:I agree that these corporate actions are mostly of the cya variety but they could help stem off a quick repeat—Jan. 20 being an obvious time they might act given a chance.
    Disrupting the communications of people who are acting to institute a fascist state is a good thing.

  8. I certainly hope that by the term “leftists” you are referring to the pseudo-left and not to the SEP.

  9. Carolyn: Yeah, that’s what I mean. Although, dammit, I wish the WSWS had made a statement about the ban. This is exactly the sort of thing I read the WSWS to orient myself about.

  10. I just want to add my $.02 here. I do not believe trump losing his twitter is censorship for one simple reason. He was using it to encourage violent action. If the classic example of yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater is not free speech then neither is his yelling “go take the capitol!”
    I know i’m paraphrasing but but I think you get my point. It isn’t censorship if what the person is saying, or trying to say, isn’t free speech. Trump’s tweets and his history of tweets speak for themselves as to his intent.
    Lastly it is hard for me to consider him as being denied free speech when he could at any moment walk up to a microphone and every news outlet would tell the world word for word what he said. So maybe, just maybe, his unique position means there needs to be a unique consideration of his situation.

  11. I think skzb agrees that Trump’s social media “accounts” were justly suspended. The concern is that many cheering the action appear to lack understanding of the implications of concentrated power and the elites’ ability to throttle any messages that they do not like through domination and ownership of the primary means of communication.

    And let’s not forget that these same social media platforms profited handsomely from Trump’s frequent use of their medium, for years and years.

    Did they finally grow a conscience when there was almost a “Sons of Jacob” incident at the capitol? Although perhaps not all those involved were aware of or in on it, the presence of pipe bombs and other explosive devices is evidence that some of the “rioters” were taking the admonition to “burn it to the ground” quite literally.

  12. Thanks for your thoughts, calisto. I disagree. You make a good argument that the censorship was justified, necessary, and correct; but I’m not disputing that. But it is still censorship. If you take a human life in order to preserve your own it is still homicide. It is not murder, and you ought to be free of any criminal charge, but it remains homicide. Trump being banned remains censorship, even if we support the action. We need to call things by their right name, even if that name is kind of ugly.

    Kragar: Yes, exactly.

  13. For those interested, Ada Palmer along with Cory Doctorow and others did a very interesting dive into censorship here:

    It explores censorship through the lens of how new information technologies (like the printing press and the internet) have gone hand in hand with new methods of censorship and information control.

  14. This letter (1933) from Trotsky to a Social Democratic Worker

    highlights a number of similarities to the situations then and now. The tldr; version is we need to work against fascism as once fascism succeeds, things become vastly more difficult. He was proven very much correct on that.

    Apropos of the current conversation of the twitter ban is a section:

    As to Freedom of the Press

    “And what will you do with the Social Democratic press if you should succeed in seizing power? Will you prohibit our papers as the Russian Bolsheviks prohibited the Menshevik papers?”

    You put the question badly. What do you mean by “our” papers? In Russia the dictatorship of the proletariat proved possible only after the overwhelming majority of the worker-Mensheviks passed over to the side of the Bolsheviks, whereas the petty-bourgeois debris of Menshevism undertook to help the bourgeoisie fight for the restoration of “democracy,” that is, of capitalism. However, even in Russia we did not at all inscribe upon our banner the prohibition of the Menshevik papers. We were led to do this by the incredibly harsh conditions of the struggle that had to be conducted to save and maintain the revolutionary dictatorship. In Soviet Germany, the situation will be, as I have already said, infinitely more favorable; and the regime of the press will necessarily feel the effects of it. I do not think that in this field the German proletariat needs to resort to repression.

    To be sure, I do not want to say that the workers’ state will tolerate even for a day the regime of “(bourgeois) freedom of the press,” that is, the state of affairs in which only those who control the printing plants, the paper companies, the bookstores, and so on, that is, the capitalists, can publish papers and books. Bourgeois “freedom of the press” signifies a monopoly for finance capital to impose capitalist prejudices upon the people by means of hundreds and thousands of papers charged with disseminating the virus of lies in the most perfect technical form. Proletarian freedom of the press will mean the nationalization of the printing plants, the paper companies, and the bookstores in the interest of the workers. We do not separate the soul from the body. Freedom of the press without linotypes, without printing presses, and without paper is a miserable fiction. In the proletarian state the technical means of printing will be put at the disposal of groups of citizens in accordance with their real numerical importance. How is this to be done? The Social Democracy will obtain printing facilities corresponding to the number of its supporters. I do not think that at that time this number will be very high: otherwise the very regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat would be impossible. Nevertheless, let us leave it to the future to settle this question. But the principle itself, of distributing the technical means of printing, not according to the thickness of the checkbook, but according to the number of supporters of a given program, of a given current, of a given school, is, I hope, the most honest, the most democratic, the most authentically proletarian principle. Isn’t that so?

    That seems to be a fairly prescient statement of the history of internet communications. We actually had a largely proletariat controlled (if you had internet access) when the blog environment was more robust but Facebook, twitter and the rest quickly monetized that environment and now we have essentially large corporations controlling access at their own whim.
    Currently (JAN 12, 2021) the major internet entities are embracing the get rid of the fascists moment, but just last week they weren’t lifting a finger against them. Their support flutters as to where they believe the money goes.

  15. Acute parallels between 1933 and 2021. Thanks for sharing.

    I wonder if these social media platforms were threatened with anti-trust or investigatory hearings by an irate congress after the events of January 6th, if they failed to ban Trump? I am sure they did not lightly turn their backs on the gobs of money they were making off Trump even while his supporters were “storming” the capitol.

    I am seeing reports on NPR that the rioters constructed a “mock” gallows. And yet they were streaming through the halls of congress chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” If they had, in fact, hanged him, would the mock gallows be perceived as real?

  16. I gotta agree with you. I think he needed to be shut down, just as I think the right wing militias using social media to plan attacks and recruit members need to be shut down. But it is not good that it is being done by a mega corporation, mostly because the optics look bad for them. One thing that has been pounded into me by watching the right devolve over the course of my adulthood is that you need to hold yourself to values and not just base your ideology on “I’m right so whatever I do is right, and I know what I do is right because I’m right.” Today it is a violent racist insurrectionist, but tomorrow it could be BLM protestors or people who want clean water or environmental justice or police accountability.

    That said, the fact that the Republicans are more concerned about this censorship than about the armed insurrectionists is pretty galling.

  17. ” Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” — A.J. Liebling

  18. “Why should freedom of speech and freedom of press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?”

    Vladimir Lenin

    I don’t know whether this is an accurate translation of something Lenin actually said. It tends to be published by his detractors. If it’s true, it expresses one possible opinion about censorship by a good socialist government, and that opinion of course does not apply to censorship by an evil capitalist government.

  19. Interesting research on the Quote Investigator site. The exact accuracy of the quote looks slightly debatable but seems to match some other things Lenin said. In the post, it mentions that Lenin wrote in a letter that:

    All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake “public opinion” for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

    We certainly see vast evidence of that today. “Freedom” of the press is an interesting concept — freedom from whom is the question. In the US, there is a guarantee of freedom from the government but certainly no guarantee of freedom from capitalists. Quite the opposite.

    How to get both freedom and accuracy is the real problem. In Lenin’s quote from Jonah he is (giving him the benefit of doubt) essentially asserting that a just government should be in control of the accuracy of the press. Unfortunately, many governments are not just. Governments, corporations and their presses all slide into the pit of propaganda.

    A well informed populous with the ability to discern accurate accounts from propaganda seems to be a requirement. That is why the various forces which I’ll just collectively label Fascism have worked so hard at undermining both education and any sort of accountability towards acuracy for the media they control.

  20. OK, first off, long time fan. I only came here looking to find out when the next book was likely to come out having been lucky
    enough to recently pick up the last 2 Vlad Taltos in one swoop. I’ve been reading the series since it came out and somehow
    missed them. I might have to reread from the start again, something I don’t manage to enjoy as much with other authors and
    other series which is why this series is still in my library.

    While looking for an announcement on the next book, I cam across “this”, which I felt was fairly reasonably stated relative
    to what I’ve read.

    The issue is certainly a complex one.
    The problem is, we don’t actually know the “real” story or all the facts, just what has been filtered to us via mega-corporations.

    Thing is, for a “coup” attempt, this was done remarkably badly.
    I’m no military mastermind, but given the situation that happened with a handful on unarmed people, I can easily imagine what a
    small group of people actually attempting could have easily achieved. In the end, we had 1 unarmed woman killed by a cop,
    1 cop that was assaulted and may have died from it after being struck with a fire extinguisher, and a number of people who died
    via health issues. Not a good thing, but hardly the kind of violence that I would expect in an actual coup attempt.

    In the end, Trump lost the election because his opponents knew the game in a way he did not.
    They changed the rules of how voting was done in a manner that in many cases is actually illegal.
    The astounding thing is that you had some courts using a fig leaf of an excuse to not hear the cases at times. The idea that the
    legislature did not act “fast” enough to challenge the illegal actions somehow allows it to continue is bizarre. The courts will eventually
    address a number of these issues, but by the time they do, Biden will have been in place for a long time and I just don’t see the
    Supreme Court being willing to remove him as part of the remedy.

    In my mind, Trump lost because he pissed off Big Pharma. Trump was pushing a most favored nation pricing system that would have
    cut their profits by billions. One of the first things Biden signed was an XO undoing an order that was reducing the cost of insulin.


    We’ll see if this order stays in place or not. It was not generally reported on by the press. It would not surprise me if he does kill it, and then revive
    it with the media acting as if it were a new thing.

    Trump had failed to push the most favored nation pricing system that would have capped prices to level in the EU, but it was stopped by the courts
    who said it was not within his power to do so. In retaliation, they withheld general knowledge that the vaccine was ready until a week AFTER the
    election. When you look election results, you’ll see that it literally would have taken only 40,000 votes in a few states to have made Trump the winner.
    The media’s refusal to cover the sins of Hunter Biden, pretending it was a non-story until, again, after the election, is believed to have helped tremendously.
    So to with the suppressed stories regarding Joe Biden’s alleged sexual assault.

    I would suggest that people who think Trump was giving marching orders to actually watch the full videos or read the transcripts and get beyond the sound bites
    that the mega corporations running the “news” decided to play.

  21. skzb — Thank you! So there are people who are familiar with all the known words of Lenin who can’t find this quote, and there is a dubious source which could easily be the only source. From this point I will assume that it is a bad quote.

    Apart from whether Lenin said it, in general governments at war have censored communications to help the war effort. They always consider winning wars more important than personal freedom for their citizens in wartime. After the war is won they can do what they want, and if they lose the war they can do nothing. So first they must do whatever it takes to win.

    The Cold War gave USA and USSR both the excuse to do “whatever it takes” for more than 40 years.

    And the concept spreads. If Left and Right think they are doing the equivalent of war, then of course they will try to influence public opinion however they can, including keeping their enemies from being heard.

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