Enough is enough.
If there was a tipping point for Donald Trump’s blatant abuse of Twitter with his hate speech, it may have come when he recently posted a series of tweets warning of a second Civil War if he were to be impeached and removed, quoting Pastor Robert Jeffress on Fox & Friends. Even one Republican lawmaker called the remark “beyond repugnant." Since then, Trump has used Twitter to further hype possible civil unrest, demand the arrest of Democratic leaders, and publicly target the whistleblower who came forward to detail the Ukraine collusion scandal which led to the House's impeachment inquiry.
This all means Trump violates Twitter's clearly stated user guidelines with abandon, yet the social media giant does nothing. Today, Democrats led by presidential hopeful Kamala Harris are demanding Twitter do to Trump what they would do to any other user whose account constantly ignores the rules: kick him off. "When Trump is using his tweets to make threats, incite violence and intimidate witnesses, this is insufficient," Harris recently wrote to the company in response to Twitter taking more non-action against Trump. "Others have had their accounts suspended for less offensive behavior."
Lots of users have made that key point. "Black folks in particular get suspended and banned for the smallest of infractions so don't tell me something can't be done about Trump's feed," stressed BlackWomenViews on Twitter. "We operated just fine for 44 Presidents not spewing bile daily on Twitter. #Kamala is right."
Dumping Trump from Twitter would rob Trump of a critical communications platform. It would also go a long way toward restoring some dignity to our public dialogue. And yes, private companies are well within their rights to deny service to customers who chronically fail to follow the rules of conduct. (I.e. this is not a freedom of speech issue.)
I'm a strong proponent of the media denying Trump the oxygen he so desperately craves. That's why I've suggested it's time for news outlets to rethink sending teams of reporters to cover the White House when daily press briefings have been jettisoned. And that’s why it makes no sense to send dozens of reporters to yell questions at Trump on his way to boarding a helicopter on the grounds of the White House. (Instead, send two or three reporters in the form of a press pool.)
The Trump Twitter conundrum gains added importance as the 2020 election season approaches. Trump no doubt will use the social media platform and his nearly 70 million followers to spread endless lies about Democratic candidates (he's already done that to Joe Biden) while inciting fresh political violence, and do it all with the social media company's blessing.
"This warning of a looming civil war takes on a different meaning when it appears on the President's Twitter feed -- not only because of the office he holds, but because he regularly packages his over-the-top doomsaying with specific calls for political violence," warned Columbia University professor Nicole Hemmer.
Meanwhile, why should there be special rules for Trump? Why should all of Twitter's other users get punished for violating its terms of service, while Trump remains protected? And perhaps most importantly, has Trump's bullying worked on Twitter, and is that why the company is too afraid to take the obvious steps to remedy the abusive situation?
In the last two years in particular, social media and tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Google have emerged as prime new targets in the conservative movement's endless search for "liberal media bias" villains. And it works. They complain so loudly and so ferociously about phantom fouls of "liberal bias" that tech and social media companies think twice about even appearing to offend Republicans down the road. Conservatives lay down the hammer via congressional hearings, presidential tweets, relentless messaging from Fox News, and hardball legal action. Basically, right-wing activists have shifted their focus and started using the same playbook that they used on newspapers, cable news, and network TV for years, which consists of raising holy hell regarding bogus claims of "bias," and striking fear into the executives that run those companies.
And voila! Suddenly Twitter is inventing new standards just for Trump.
Back in July, while trying to figure out a way to justify not suspending Trump's account (which operates in blatant violation of Twitter's content rules), the company announced it would label tweets from world leaders whose comments breach Twitter guidelines, in an effort to prevent those tweets from going viral. But that policy of selective enforcement turned out to be a toothless exercise because Twitter has refused to designate any Trump tweets from his personal account as violating company policy, even though many Trump tweets have clearly violated Twitter policy, including the company's stated guideline which forbids "targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category."
By the way, let's be honest that some Beltway journalists love Trump's tweets and want them to stick around, because they represent the easiest possible way to cover him. No need for reporting or sourcing: just type up what Trump tweeted and label it "news." What could be easier than that? It's truly astonishing how leading news outlets such as The New York Times now simply rely on Trump's often erratic and incoherent tweets as sourcing, and treat the garbled content as official White House policy.
As for Twitter's complete lack of corporate courage, "The company’s weak response shows how utterly incapable it is in dealing with these thorny issues," wrote Kara Swisher, a leading tech journalist. "It is incumbent on the giant social platforms to prevent the president from dangerously weaponizing their tools. If not, when the history of this era is written, they will be judged as completely failing in their duties as citizens."
Emphasis on: completely failing.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.