For a glorious 11 minutes last Thursday, all was well in the world. During those 11 minutes a soon-to-be ex-Twitter employee shut down Donald Trump’s Twitter account. It was a small bit of good karma for a man who has used his Twitter platform to attack others and (sometimes) threaten war with other countries. And then after those 11 minutes, Trump’s account was reinstated. He would later tweet his message was clearly going somewhere if some rogue employee felt the need to deactivate his account. The shutdown comes in the wake of lots of bad press for Twitter in a variety of areas over the last few weeks.
Twitter is a weird social network. It isn’t as widely used as other social networking sites. While almost everyone is on Facebook, Twitter is mostly used by journalists and famous people. It’s also different in that it allows whomever is speaking about something to bypass any middlemen and talk directly to the people. Which is why Trump seems to love the platform so much. Sure, there is an official President of the United States Twitter handle that probably has a whole team responsible for running it, but Trump uses Twitter to say exactly what he’s thinking, whenever he thinks it.
Twitter, however, is facing a lot of criticism for the way it handles statements like those made by Trump. Trump has used his Twitter account to directly attack those who criticize him and to discredit members of his own party. He has used Twitter to heckle and make fun of other world leaders, and through it, has almost given North Korea a reason to bomb the country.
Twitter has come under fire for not banning Trump and those like him who use the platform to bully others even when they violate the company’s terms of service. Twitter has said it wants to protect all forms of free speech. The social network also said it will release an update to its terms of service in order to clearly show what is and isn’t a ban-able offense.
I, however, cannot see what is so difficult for Twitter to figure out. Ever since we were young children we are taught to treat others the way we want to be treated. It’s a pretty simple concept. On the internet that roughly translates out to don’t be a dick. Still a pretty simple concept. And yet, neither Twitter nor Trump can seem to figure it out.
Comments sections are abuzz with people commenting about the First Amendment and free speech, but neither of those things really matter in these situations especially when talking about Twitter. Freedom of speech only directly applies when discussing speech in the public sphere. If Donald Trump were still a private person and some senator or other public figure tried to silence him for his attacks then sure it would count. But Trump isn’t doing that. Trump is using a private company’s product to spread his hate and bully others. There’s no public sphere here.
As a privately held company, Twitter has full control over who can and cannot use their product. The rules on that are normally written out in the terms of service. And Twitter does not seem to have a problem permanently suspending accounts who violate those terms of service. Last year the social network banned right-wing nut-job Milo Yiannopoulos for his comments towards actress Leslie Jones. Just last week, right wing pundit Roger Stone was banned because of an expletive laced tweet storm directed at CNN. A spokesperson for the company specifically said Stone was banned because he violated the terms of service for harassment and the inciting of harassment on others.
Twitter needs to get its house in order. Currently it is being willy-nilly about how it handles violations of its terms of service in order to give everyone a free platform. If somebody like Trump can’t figure out how to follow the rules of product, maybe they don’t deserve a platform.