Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has backed the messaging platform’s ban of US President Donald Trump, but said it sets a “dangerous” precedent and represents a failure to promote healthy conversation on social networks.
“Having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications,” Mr Dorsey said in a string of tweets about his take on the company’s decision late last week to permanently bar the president.
“While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation,” Mr Dorsey said, inviting feedback from users.
Mr Trump’s access to social media platforms that he used as a megaphone during his presidency has been largely cut off since his supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington last week.
In addition to Twitter, bans have also been put in place by Facebook, Instagram, Twitch and Snapchat, while YouTube temporarily suspended his channel.
However Twitter was the Republican president’s go-to tool, which he used to directly communicate on a daily basis with some 88 million followers, posting everything from proclamations to accusations and spreading misinformation via the platform.
Social media operators say he could have used his accounts to foment more unrest in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
On Monday, Twitter took things one step further, announcing it had also suspended “more than 70,000 accounts” linked to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory that claims Mr Trump is waging a secret war against a global liberal cult of Satan-worshipping paedophiles.
Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Mr Trump is considered overdue by critics who argue he has gotten away with abuses, but has worried free-speech advocates and drawn criticism from various NGOs and leaders.
The company said in a blog post explaining its decision that after close review of the president’s recent tweets it had “permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Twitter also blocked efforts by Mr Trump to sidestep the ban of his @realDonaldTrump account when he posted tweets from the official presidential account @POTUS and the @TeamTrump campaign account.
“We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now,” ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said at the time.
“But, it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions.”
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in, stating on Monday through her spokesman that she believed freedom of opinion should not be determined by “the management of social media platforms.”
Mr Dorsey said that while he believes Twitter made the right decision to ban Mr Trump, it “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”
“This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet,” he said.
He rejected the notion that social media giants coordinated efforts, reasoning that it was more likely they each came to the same conclusion about the potential for violence.
Snapchat yesterday became the latest platform to permanently ban Mr Trump.
“Last week we announced an indefinite suspension of president Trump’s Snapchat account,” the platform told AFP.
“In the interest of public safety, and based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines, we have made the decision to permanently terminate his account.”
The actions by social media companies angered ardent defenders of Mr Trump, who was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting “insurrection.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a longtime Trump ally, demanded that major tech platforms explain why Trump is no longer welcome.
Removal of the president and others by multiple platforms, he said, “silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies.”