Does social media’s move towards censorship also mark a move towards first Amendment violations? Or towards the safety of American minds?
Throughout the past four years of the Trump Administration, conversations about the relationship between social media and politics have become increasingly prevalent.
Trump’s unfiltered tweets have resulted in rising online tension for years. However, the situation recently climaxed when Twitter censored President Trump’s tweets about “surprise” and “disappearing” ballots over the course of the 2020 presidential election.
As tensions continue to run high following President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, the nation is split between criticism and praise for Twitter’s choice to censor Trump’s tweets regarding the election. This debate is provoking Americans to ask the question: should social media be censored, or does censorship of any kind lead to First Amendment infringement?
Twitter censored President Trump’s tweets because of their civic integrity policy about communicating information to the American people that could be “misleading about an election or other civic process.”
Some Americans believed that Twitter was valid in their censorship of Trump’s largely unfounded claims while others viewed Twitter’s move as a First Amendment infringement.
After Twitter began to censor the President, Trump himself tweeted on election night at 2 a.m. that Twitter was “out of control.” Pro-Trump Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo is one of many conservative Twitter users threatening to leave the site after the incident referring to Twitter as “the same group who abused power in 2016.” Bartiromo said, “I will be leaving soon and going to Parler.”
Social media platform “Parler,” as explained by Vanity Fair, is a “de facto safe space for Trump supporters participating in the “Stop the Steal” protest campaign,” but conservatives describe it as “a neutral platform for free speech.
Many high-profile conservatives are beginning to flood the app such as Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity, Laura Loomer and Dinesh D’Souza. The app was downloaded more than 3.8 million times in the week following the election — meaning app downloads were up five times from the previous week.
These statistics beg the following question: does media censorship lead to an increase in media polarization as opposed to bipartisanship?
It has been proven that media censorship can lead to polarization and create virtual echo chambers. For example, Twitter potentially becoming a safe haven for liberals just as Parler could soon become a haven for conservatives. Parler’s users are largely outspoken conservatives, who push for Twitter users to move away from the app, yet still, communicate to the public from Twitter itself.
Regardless, President Trump’s Twitter feed has been under high scrutiny for stating unfounded claims as though they are hard facts. Some people believe that when baseless tweets come from the President of the United States, they’re more than just inaccurate — they’re dangerous to the American public.
One of those individuals is David Byler, a columnist for the Washington Post, who wrote about what he believes to be President Trump’s “worst tweet ever,” which was posted when Trump left Walter Reed Medical Center after undergoing treatment for COVID-19.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” Trump tweeted. “Don’t let it dominate your life.”
A Quinnipiac poll in September reported that 21% of likely voters, including 51% of Republicans, would trust Trump “more than scientists” when it came to information regarding the pandemic.
Since the election, The Atlantic reports that President Trump “has tweeted (or retweeted himself) more than 120 times. So far, about 40 of these tweets come with a warning label.” Kaitlyn Tiffany of The Atlantic believes it is tweets like these, as well as other misleading tweets regarding election results, that endanger the American public.
“Losing reelection has not cost him one iota of social-media stardom; he’s gained another 1.5 million followers since Election Day,” she stated. “There’s no reason to think he won’t use this enormous audience to continue endangering people’s lives with falsehoods,” said Tiffany.
Tiffany went on to discuss a recent study which found that President Trump along with a handful of his high-profile supporters were the individuals behind “20 percent of all retweets of election misinformation.” Another study found that “Trump himself was ‘the largest driver’ of coronavirus misinformation.”
In terms of First Amendment violations, Trump has “certainly called into question a lot of preconceived notions about how you should treat the president’s speech,” according to free-speech advocate Katie Fallow of the Knight First Amendment Institute.
With past presidents having a much more censored and regulated presence, both in public and online, President Trump’s way of communicating with the American people has created many “firsts” in American politics. Whether you believe that censorship is a healthy method of separating fact from fiction, or that it violates First Amendment principles, one thing is certain: bipartisanship was not a victor in the 2020 election.