Journalists are increasingly asking — and urging — CNN to suspend or delete President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, as he continues his feud with MSNBC, CNN, and other media outlets that have been hostile to his administration.
Calls for Twitter to ban Trump began long before he took office. Slate.com suggested in November 2016 that Facebook was giving “preferential” treatment to the president-elect, while Twitter — which had banned “alt-right” users in the recent past — could boot him from its platform.
The New York Times published a commentary in December arguing that Twitter could suspend Trump — but advising it not to do so.
The Times’ Farhad Manjoo wrote in December 2016:
If Twitter wanted to, it would be well within its rights to suspend Donald J. Trump’s account.
As a corporation, Twitter is under no First Amendment obligation to let Mr. Trump use the service. It gets to make its own set of speech rules within its own walls, and among those rules is a prohibition on using the service to incite harassment.
And yet Twitter is in no position, now, to suspend @realDonaldTrump.
If you look closely at Mr. Trump’s Twitter messages, he has appeared to tack just inside the lines of the service’s rules of conduct. More than that, free speech advocates argue that Twitter’s policies ought to give great deference to political figures. Suspending Mr. Trump’s account would be censorship. Though Twitter is legally free to censor whomever it wants, it also has a duty to recognize how its actions affect the larger world.
The repercussions could be vast. As online services like Twitter become the world’s primary place for political dialogue, the rules they set up for policing political speech will have a wide-ranging impact — they could be used to ban not just billionaire presidents-elect, but also activists and dissidents across the globe.
But calls to ban Trump from Twitter continued. In January 2017, after Trump feuded with actress Meryl Streep, Chez Pazienza wrote at the Daily Banter that Trump’s Twitter account was “very, very dangerous, particularly as of January 20th. Which is why now is the time for Twitter to do the right thing and shut it down. The service should suspend Donald Trump permanently.”
Later that month, just before Trump’s inauguration, former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao and former Twitter executive Laura Gomez urged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to suspend Trump, arguing that “@realdonaldtrump is bringing out the worst of Twitter — the company, the platform and its users. He’s using his manipulation skills and your platform to bully others and to incite supporters to harass people — both on Twitter and in real life.”
Calls to suspend Trump have grown since then. In June, Seth Masket wrote at the Pacific Standard: “I would recommend that Twitter immediately suspend Trump’s account. They should do so not only because it’s in the public interest, but because he has violated many of their own rules.”
The latter claim — that Trump has violated Twitter’s rules — is disputed by Twitter itself, as CNN found out last weekend when it asked the company whether the president could be suspended from the service. CNN’s Brian Stelter wanted to know if Trump’s now-infamous “wrestling” tweet had violated Twitter’s terms of service. The company’s answer was: no.
Twitter’s CEO has faced similar calls for months, and explained to Wired in April that he would not suspend Trump because “I think it’s really important that we maintain open channels to our leaders, whether we like what they’re saying or not, because I don’t know of another way to hold them accountable.”
That is not to say the company has been hospitable to the president. The company allegedly turned down $5 million in advertising from the Trump campaign last year. And in May, Twitter co-founder and board member Evan Williams apologized for the company’s role in Trump’s rise: “If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry,” he told the Times.
Now, more journalists are demanding that Twitter take action. Business Insider correspondent Steve Kovach wrote on Monday: “Between the string of Mika Brzezinski insults and that WWE/CNN video, Twitter would have a strong case to delete or suspend the president’s account, according to its rules for combating abuse on the platform.”
Kovach acknowledged that Twitter had declared that Trump had not violated its rules. But he urged it to crack down on Trump for its own good: “Twitter’s harassment problem goes beyond what the president posts and is harmful to the interests of the company (and society) in the long run. And if it’s serious about combatting abuse on its platform, Trump deserves to be held to the same standard as everyone else.”
Left unmentioned: Trump has been very successful in using Twitter to circumvent the mainstream media, and to push back against them.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.