The Danger behind Banning Donald Trump on Social Media

Blocking the accounts of the president of the United States, despite how people are celebrating, warrants some thought about the regulation of digital content.

In the past few days, the United States has once again experienced a tornado called Donald Trump. Using public speeches and social media, the almost ex-president incited his supporters to invade the Capitol, the seat of Congress, in an action that culminated in five deaths.

As an emergency measure to contain the spread of violence from the extreme right, social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit blocked Trump’s official accounts. At first glance, this seems to be a good decision for democracy. However, is it really?

For some years now, there has been growing pressure on the large corporations that manage social media platforms and other internet services. This is due to the observation that the current state of the internet is one of the primary reasons responsible for the advance of right-wing extremism. In various corners of the world, governments, having realized this, are taking measures to deal with the problems generated by social media.

Governments have regulated user data and taken steps to control the monopoly exercised by these corporations. However, the state still has not made any concrete progress in the field of accountability over hate speech promoted through the platforms.

At first, we all celebrated when Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, the heads of Twitter and Facebook, respectively, announced they were banning Trump, but we need to realize that these actions are knives aimed at ourselves.

The state should be responsible for regulating discourse on the platforms through its executive, legislative and judicial powers. By taking such a role and assuming the role of judge, jury and executioner of the sentence imposed on Trump, the multibillion-dollar corporations, which have been among the most profitable companies in the midst of the pandemic, weaken the state and strengthen their own legitimacy.

One can see this legitimacy in how the steps these companies took were supported by people who, tired of the hate speech promoted by the far right, celebrated the suspension of Trump’s accounts on every one of the world’s major social media platforms. This legitimization takes power away from the state and the people, and gives it to the megacorporations. To quote a phrase that is prevalent among cyberpunk wonks, this discourse can be summed up as “all power to the corporations.”

The prevailing argument for most people who defend banning Trump from social media is that the social media platforms are private companies and can therefore do whatever they want and answer to whomever they please. This argument is part of a discourse that is the height of neoliberalism, one that even approaches an approximation of neofeudalism (or anarchist capitalism), which we need to fight every day.

Yes, Trump needed to be silenced, but through judicial and legislative action taken by the state that directs social media platforms to suspend his accounts. We need to encourage people to put pressure on these corporations to submit to regulation from government agencies that the people control, and that in the end, the power to suspend accounts must not lie with the social media companies. This time, emulating more hopeful efforts, the decision to ban these accounts can be summed up in the phrase, “All power to the people.”

It is unacceptable that just two people, solely on the basis of the economic power they have, can make a unilateral decision that should be the state’s to make. These kinds of decisions by the government usually don’t occur because our state structure is controlled by the economic power the social media companies wield, and therefore the state relinquishes control. In view of this reality, it is even more urgent for people to exert pressure on the state to write laws that specifically regulate how these platforms function, and diminish the power they wield.

Rafael Guia is an activist with Consulta Popular and a developer and data analyst for the Projeto de Articulação de Redes.

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