“Look, I don’t like tweeting,” Donald Trump told Fox & Friends two days before his presidential inauguration. He was lying.
If Trump disliked Twitter so much, he would have surrendered Twitter to the Secret Service at the door to the White House, where using unsecured Android phones is frowned upon. Instead, he continues to tweet from his personal phone, even during national security briefings. He has used Twitter to call people haters, dummies, and losers, and to effectively subvert traditional media outlets. For more than a year he has filled our timelines with insults, turning Twitter into a toxic swamp. It’s as if the slime demon from FernGully got his hands on a Samsung Galaxy instead of a timbersaw. As of today, Trump has posted more than 34,000 tweets and retweets — averaging about 12 tweets a day, every day, for the past eight years.
The man lives to tweet. And that’s exactly why Twitter should ban him.
The president’s dependency on Twitter gives it a tremendous opportunity that no other company has: to deny the president his favorite means of poisoning the well of public discourse. Twitter has the unique ability to embarrass and diminish a man who is so thin-skinned he can be “baited by a tweet.” It can humiliate a narcissist by taking away his favorite toy. Trump becomes paralyzed by anything that embarrasses his ego, and so embarrassing him could make him weaker.
Trump is not a normal president, and Twitter is often the venue for his disturbing abnormality. This places the company in an uncomfortable position. Twitter is not an internet service provider or anything resembling a utility. It has no obligation to behave like a neutral party; in fact, given its unique position to influence Trump’s behavior, it arguably has a moral obligation to take action.
It is surely a point of pride for Twitter that POTUS is a power user. But people inside the company also recognize their role in elevating a dangerous man to a position of real-world power. After Trump won the election, one former employee told The Verge that “there was a strong sense of ‘what have we done?’ from Twitter employees.” Even Trump’s man in Silicon Valley credits Twitter for helping his ascent. “I think… at a place like Twitter, they were all working for Trump this whole year even though they thought they were working for [Bernie] Sanders,” Peter Thiel told The New York Times.
Twitter has banned high-profile jerks before
Twitter has shown the courage to eliminate high-profile miscreants before. Last July the company banned Milo Yiannopoulos, a pied piper of frothing right-wing Breitbart interns, for directing a wave of racist abuse toward Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. (Trump, a big fan of Breitbart, was also unhappy about the all-female reboot.) But Twitter gave vague reasons for the Yiannopoulos ban, and has struggled to express a coherent vision for rule enforcement even after admitting a while ago that the company “sucks” at dealing with abuse.
The big question so far has been whether Trump has done something to violate the platform’s terms of service. Inside Twitter, employees are skeptical that Trump will break the rules hard enough to justify a ban. A New York Times piece on the question of banning Trump walked the tightrope of Twitter’s terms of service, noting that he’s “appeared to tack just inside the lines on the service’s rules of conduct.” The Ringer, Vanity Fair, and others have ruminated on which potential violation Twitter could pick from to boot Trump from the service. But this is the wrong angle of attack.
Nothing would look weaker than trying to nail Trump on a technicality. Kicking the president out because he broke a rule in the fine print might seem like a “fair” way to do it, but in reality it would be seen as a tacky, cowardly move. Nobody seems to think the president is a regular Twitter user who is subject to the regular rules, nor, arguably, should he be.
Instead, Twitter should ban Trump precisely because it will hurt him. With clear eyes and a full throat, a ban could be a form of direct action against a man who deserves to be deliberately and fiercely opposed. It would be an extraordinary act by a private company to battle someone in power who threatens its interests and those of its users.
Trump harms Twitter’s users, and is a threat to its business
Twitter already recognized Trump as a threat publicly when it joined 97 others to file an opposition to the president’s immigration ban, saying it “inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth,” and that it would make it “more difficult and expensive to recruit, hire and retain some of the world’s best employees.” A ban would also likely serve Twitter’s users by ending a high-profile pattern of harassment centered around Trump. Twitter has struggled to deal with this kind of abuse for years, and banning Trump would be seen by many users as a defense of their interests and safety.
In the best-case scenario, Twitter can mitigate the damage Trump will be able to inflict on his nation and world through the careless words and actions he is constantly tempted to produce by tweeting. On balance, the value of the public seeing the president’s thoughts on Twitter seems outweighed by the public interest in those thoughts never occurring in the first place. We’ve never had a president tempted to casually imply in a tweet that the US will start a new nuclear arms race. Trump’s tweets are not just poorly spelled insults and gaffes — they’re often alarming and dangerous.
Through his rise to power and beyond, Twitter has fueled Trump’s rampage of ignorance and animus. He has ruthlessly insulted rivals, attacked journalists, denigrated judges and lawmakers, helped to organize harassment, and cause general instability in the world — whether it’s a tweet threatening to upend essential alliances, or an attack on Nordstrom for choosing to not enrich his family. He even undermines his own administration with Twitter, like today, when he ruined the White House’s response to an FBI scandal with hysteria.
So it would overwhelmingly be a good thing for the president to stop tweeting so much — just ask the president, who promised to quit. “Don’t worry, I’ll give it up after I’m president, we won’t tweet anymore,” Trump said last year at a campaign rally in Rhode Island. “Not presidential.” And yet.
A ban could also satisfy the broader meaning of the company’s stated mission — to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. It would not be ironic for Twitter to attack someone who wants to erect costly physical, technological, and social barriers that will erode progress and hope for the lives of millions of people around the world, if doing so sends a message that those measures cannot be tolerated by free societies. There would surely be a risk to Twitter’s business to provoke protest, but Twitter’s value does not come from hosting Trump. It comes from the millions of artists, celebrities, reporters, and regular folks who freely contribute to it on a daily basis as a real-time source of information and conversation. They’re not all going to leave because he’s banned.
“The whole world is watching Twitter”
Earlier this month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey used an underwhelming quarterly earnings statement as an occasion to recognize Twitter’s influence and power. “The whole world is watching Twitter,” he wrote on Medium. “You don’t go a day without hearing about Twitter. How it carried some of the most important commentary and conversations. How it mobilized people into action.”
“Twitter forever changed the way the world communicates, and we’ll do it again,” he wrote.
It’s true that Twitter has changed how the world communicates. Indeed, a bizarre facet of our reality is that the president of the United States is a person who tweets. But it is Facebook, not Twitter, that has strained itself to become the public square — to break bread with Glenn Beck and behave as if it is bringing people together. (Facebook is currently threatening to become the new world order.) That’s not a brand Twitter needs to compete with. Twitter has the opportunity to stand tall as the only major company in history to refuse this kind of service to a sitting president, while its peers cozy up to Trump by giving him credit for things he didn’t do.
Let Mark Zuckerberg be the sweater-wearing town mayor. You can be the leather jacket-wearing renegade, willing to make a stand for your company and your users. Are you ready, Jack?