The suspension of Donald Trump by Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), and the YouTube unit of Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL) has escalated an already contentious push that has been underway for years to crack down on the influence of Big Tech.
The most recent showdown came when Facebook revealed it would suspend Trump’s account for a two-year period. Prior to that, it was undetermined how long the Facebook ban would continue.
The effective starting date of the suspension was Jan. 7 this year, which followed the U.S. Capitol siege on Jan. 6. Moreover, that event also pushed Twitter and YouTube, as well as Snapchat owner Snap (SNAP) and Amazon (AMZN)-owned Twitch to announce their bans on Trump, some of which are permanent.
Those suspensions have been followed by a series of legislative efforts at the state level seeking to punish Facebook, Twitter and others for what some claim are free-speech violations.
“What we’ve been seeing across the U.S. is an effort to silence, intimidate and wipe out dissenting voices by the leftist media and big corporations,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said just prior to signing Senate Bill 7072 on May 24. The bill aims to “stop the censorship of Floridians by Big Tech.”
The Dominant Players In Big Tech
Big Tech mainly refers to the most dominant companies in the information technology industry, namely Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft (MSFT).
The proposals to lessen the power of Big Tech are numerous, and nearly all involve aggressive government action. This includes attempts to remove longstanding liability protections by rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which now protects social media sites from liability over third-party content. There’s also consideration for treating social media platforms as public utilities or common carriers with all the constraints that entails.
Liberals rejoiced when social media websites cut off Trump leading up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Conservatives, however, accused the companies of shutting down free speech and trampling on First Amendment rights.
The Florida legislation supported by DeSantis would bar Internet companies from suspending political candidates in the run-up to elections. In addition, it would also make it easier for the Florida state attorney general and individuals to bring lawsuits.
This can happen if they think the tech companies have acted unfairly. The Florida legislation takes effect July 1.
Moreover, Texas Gov. Roy Abbott has expressed support for state Senate Bill 12, which aims to crack down on the perceived censorship of conservative voices by social media companies. North Carolina and Louisiana state legislators are considering similar bills.
“Social media sites have become our modern day public squares where information should be able to flow freely, but social media companies are now acting as judge and jury on determining what viewpoints are valid,” said Abbott when he announced his support for SB12 in March.
Big Tech Points Finger At Big Government
However, legal experts and trade groups have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the law. They also warn that it gives the government too much power over online speech. Depending on what Congress does, Big Tech and social media companies could get swamped with lawsuits.
When Facebook announced Trump’s suspension it also took an unusual step. It provided an extended explanation of its reason. This included a transcribed podcast with Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs. A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution interviewed Clegg.
Clegg sought to outline and clarify the Facebook ban and its new set of rules.
“We have now developed a set of penalties, for these very rare occasions where prominent public figures and government leaders, politicians, and others, are using their presence on our platform to actively praise and foment violence while that violence is still ongoing,” Clegg said.
The scale of penalties starts with one month. The most egregious violations — like those of Trump — bring a suspension of two years.
Big Tech Ban Could Stick Around
That doesn’t mean Trump’s ban gets automatically restored at the end of his two-year stint. Come Jan. 7, 2023, Facebook plans to reassess whether the risk to public safety has receded.
“If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded,” Clegg said.
The YouTube unit of Alphabet has a similar stance. YouTube guidelines outline what can or cannot be said or displayed. This includes a three-strikes policy that guides when channels will be suspended or terminated.
“Previously, the Donald J. Trump channel (on YouTube) violated our incitement to violence policy, and was suspended in accordance with our strikes system,” YouTube spokeswoman Ivy Choi said in an email to Investor’s Business Daily.
“As we shared earlier this year, we will lift the suspension on the channel when we determine a decrease in the risk of real-world violence,” she said.
Twitter Bans Trump Permanently
Twitter, on the other hand, was firm in saying it would not allow Trump back on its platform, citing him for violating rules multiple times. Trump had 88.8 million followers on Twitter, which he used on a daily basis.
In addition, Snap permanently booted Trump off its Snapchat platform on Jan. 13, which the company also dubbed as permanent.
“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,” a company spokesperson said in a written statement at the time.
Twitch, the video streaming service owned by Amazon, disabled Trump‘s account on Jan. 7, 2021. It then indefinitely suspended Trump on Jan. 20 for violating its community guidelines, which prohibit hateful conduct, harassment, or incitement of violence on its service.
Trump Blog Lasts One Month
The suspension of Trump accounts by Big Tech has lessened his ability to speak directly to his followers, so he tried taking matters into his own hands recently. He launched a short-lived blog site titled “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” and shut it down a month after its launch. He did so, reportedly, due to the low amount of viewers.
He used the blog site to post his reactions to various news events. As an example of the posts, Trump wrote: “What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country.”
Trump added: “Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before.”
A senior aide to Trump, Jason Miller, in a Twitter post said the blog’s removal stands as a precursor to Trump joining another social platform.
Please follow Brian Deagon on Twitter at @IBD_BDeagon for more on tech stocks, analysis and financial markets.
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