Trump is banned from Twitter, permanently. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch and virtually every other social media service followed suit and banned the sitting President. Even Trump’s email distribution service now refuses to facilitate his communications. When rumours emerged that Trump was set to migrate to Parler, a competitor to Twitter, Google and Apple immediately moved to clamp down on the up-and-coming site. Google suspended Parler from the Play Store for failing to remove “egregious content”. Apple have been more generous, giving Parler a 24-hour ultimatum to meet its censorious demands. This large-scale operation sets a dangerous precedent, and serves to illuminate to us the extent to which big tech companies coordinate in order to shut down particular speakers and their speech. Tens of thousands of Trump supporting social media profiles, right-wing websites, subReddits and blogs are being expunged from the internet in one fell swoop. And this isn’t even the opening salvo, it’s just a weapons test. The censoring is a whiplash response to the storming of the Capitol, an example must be made and this is just the beginning for those who were so unfortunate to have been duped by Trumpian grifters. Prosecution will follow for many. But the stated aim of this wave of censorship is to prevent violence, which the platforms claim, correctly, the President incites. However, the consequence of expelling Trump, who represents 75 Million Americans, from a mainstream platform will be to drive him and his supporters into ever darker corners of the internet. Where Trump goes, millions will follow, and they will find refuge somewhere. The only difference is, that this new safe space will be liberated from the pesky voice of dissent, from critique, from opposition. In the new Callipolis toxic views will fester as a wound might, and free from the medicinal virtue of debate, the infection will only become more dangerous.
Trump did incite the Capitol Hill riot. The claim that he incited it on Twitter is a dubious one, but the given reasons and the actual reasons for the ongoing censoring are of course entirely separate things. The incitement really occurred at the DC rally, and Trump failed to use his social media to put out the fire, because he is either mad, or bad. But the fact remains that this is effectively a punishment being meted out to Trump now he is powerless and isolated. When his initial temporary suspension expired, he returned to Tweet twice. The first Tweet was a video in which he condemned the Capitol riots in no uncertain terms, and guaranteed an orderly transition. In the second, he simply stated that he would not attend the inauguration of Joe Biden. Twitter apparently interpreted this second Tweet as dog whistle which gave the green light to a potential attack of the ceremony, an interpretation which is simply incredulous. The banning was payback, plain and simple. But the cost of this unthinking retribution is lost on those who are so eager to impose it. Big tech corporations can now decide whether a President can or cannot speak – and bear in mind the networks mostly refuse to run his addresses now, too. If they can to it to him, they can do it to you. Just as the refusal of CNN and MSNBC to broadcast Trump’s words directly led to rise of propaganda channels like NewsMax and OANN, this social media purge will invariably form echo chambers which will compound extreme views. All this not to mention the legitimising effect censorship of this type will have. The conspiracy theorists will be delighted that their doom-laden prophecies of a dystopian corporate police state have manifested in reality, the censorship is proof, they will say, that they were right all along.
Parler by its nature is totally whacky. Most people, the vast majority actually, use social media platforms for non-political conversation. They talk about their hobbies, interests, family and so on. But Parler is a social network whose entire constituency is comprised of those who have been banned by mainstream social media companies for their right-wing views. This creates a bizarre arena, in which millions of people log on each day only to read views that reinforce that which they already believe. At the time of writing the ‘Hashtag Feed’, a variant of Twitter’s ‘Trending section’ is a Smörgåsbord board of Maga talking points:
#stopthesteal #millionmagamarch #pardonassange #projectveritas #releasethekraken #defundthebbc #overturn #breaking #alllivesmatter #draintheswam
Lin Wood, a prominent Trump supporting lawyer has a Parler account with 1.3 Million followers. His content on the site is a microcosm for the conspiracies that define it. Recently he wrote:
‘Add Italy to the list of foreign countries who unlawfully interfered in our national election. Thousands of your fellow citizens, including government officials, were co-conspirators with these foreign governments. Acts of treason toward We The People.’
This ‘Parley’ was seen by 5.3 Million users. He has also spread claims that Ashli Babbit, who was killed during the Capitol Hill riots is ‘alive and well’. His followers lapped it up. The public arena is awash with light. It can be seen by all, and the debate that goes on therein can serve as a disinfectant. It’s not a perfect system of course, there will always be contrarians, cults, liars, charlatans, dissidents and so on – but better that those who can be saved by reason are saved, rather than they be resigned to a cockroach infested corner, in order that our own sensibilities are no longer offended by Trump’s unseemly Tweets. In the rush to get payback on Trump, we are cheering on the corporations as they execute an unprecedented clampdown. But we must resist the catharsis that comes with Trump’s comeuppance, and pay heed to the real cost. Our own freedoms are at stake, conspiracy theorists are vindicated, and the already delusional will become extreme, as they are resiled to their diet of poison on Parler. Trump is dangerous, but banning him is the greatest of two evils. Challenge lies – don’t run from them.