A bad decision for several reasons, although David French’s point is well taken. It would be easier to defend Trump here if he hadn’t already demonstrated, both in word and in deed, that he doesn’t draw bright lines between violent miscreants and peaceful protesters.
Even so, this will backfire.
We’ve placed a public interest notice on this Tweet for violating our policy against abusive behavior, specifically, the presence of a threat of harm against an identifiable group.https://t.co/AcmW6O6d4t
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) June 23, 2020
Here’s what Trump’s tweet looks like now on the Twitter website:
Problem one: Notwithstanding the president’s own difficulty distinguishing law-abiding demonstrators from rioters, it’s foreseeable that lawful force might be required to evict an “autonomous zone” outside the White House. How many shootings have there been in the CHAZ in Seattle this week? What would happen if the “occupiers” started trying to control public access to the “zone”? These little makeshift communes are fun for the media and all but it’s not a coincidence that chatter about a new “autonomous zone” in D.C. last night was taking place alongside mob action to pull down a statue of Andrew Jackson. The “zones” are a form of mob action too. Hopefully they can be dismantled peacefully, with persuasion, but mobs aren’t known for responding to reason.
Problem two: Calling a dubious foul like this on Trump makes it seem like Twitter’s now holding him to a separate standard in policing his tweets for violations of its terms of service. That’s ironic considering that they let him have the run of the place for 10 years, saying whatever he wanted about anyone with no repercussions until finally the agita over him smearing Joe Scarborough as a likely murderer forced them to act last month. (And they didn’t actually act against his Scarborough tweets when they did. They dinged him for disinformation about mail-in voting instead.) They’ve now come full circle, slapping his wrist for vowing “serious force” against an autonomous zone in D.C. even though it’s hard to imagine them punishing randos for demanding “serious force” in Seattle, say. It reminds me of how Twitter belatedly flagged a pair of tweets by a Chinese government spokesman in which he blamed the United States for seeding China’s COVID-19 outbreak but only after Trumpers started asking why those were acceptable to the company but Trump’s mail-in-voting tweets weren’t. Twitter is now clearly policing Trump more closely than it is even other high foreign government officials tweeting more sinister disinformation. Would a tweeted threat by the Chinese government to use “serious force” in Hong Kong have merited the same quick action?
Problem three: We’re left to speculate whether Twitter would have reacted as aggressively to a left-wing politician vowing “serious force” against a potentially threatening right-wing gathering, but we all hold the same suspicion about it. Today’s action isn’t just Twitter being hard on Trump, it’s Twitter being especially protective of a cause with which its management sympathizes. (“#BlackLivesMatter” is part of the official Twitter bio.) It’s not unlike public-health experts deciding that mass gatherings to protest George Floyd’s death were an important public-health interest notwithstanding the risk of viral contagion after slamming the anti-lockdown protests in April as grossly irresponsible because of how they might spread COVID-19. Institutions like to pretend that they enforce their rules neutrally, without respect to political sympathies, but they rarely do.
As I say, it will backfire. Republican senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz know that crusading against Big Tech for partisan bias is good politics, especially ahead of a presidential primary in 2024. This will help the cause.
Twitter is literally censoring the President of the United States for saying that violent anarchists will not be allowed to take over our nation’s capital & that law enforcement will act to protect public safety.
In Big Tech’s Orwellian world, that’s “abusive.” https://t.co/x5FPzcUPWb
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 23, 2020
Trump didn’t say anything about “violent anarchists,” Ted — that’s French’s point exactly — and Twitter didn’t “censor” him by leaving his tweet up and adding a note to it, but oh well. Anyway, maybe Twitter figures that they gain more from the publicity of red-flagging Trump than they risk losing from a quixotic effort led by Cruz and Hawley to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That bill’s never going to pass so long as Democrats control either house of Congress or the White House, and Dems are all but assured of controlling at least one of those next year. If Mike Lee can’t be convinced to strip immunity from tech companies that moderate content in a way that angers conservatives, good luck getting Pelosi to do it.
I’ll leave you with this comment from French.
No matter how many insults you hurl my way, you cannot possibly make me care more about a private company making me click once to see a Trump tweet than I care about the administration’s demonstrated record of unjustified violence against peaceful protesters.
— David French (@DavidAFrench) June 23, 2020