Saturday, January 09, 2021


In response to the news that Twitter has permanently banned Donald Trump from its platform, Conor Friedersdorf tweeted:

In other tweets, Friedersdorf acknowledges that a private company has the right to do this and that it's quite reasonable for a company to set limits, one of which is Don't use our platform to foment insurrection against the government.

But that's why I resent the question above. It can't be considered as a matter of abstract principle. If a right-winger or libertarian banned a left-leaning politician, even a liberal president, from a platform, the only relevant question would be whether the punishment fit the crime, assuming there was a crime. If Peter Thiel controlled a platform that had near-monopoly power over a certain kind of Internet expression and banned Joe Biden or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for ideology, that would be very different from Twitter banning Trump for socially destructive behavior -- undermining democracy with a series of massive lies, then giving aid and comfort to a violent, seditious mob.

This takes me back to a pointless thought exercise we were occasionally encouraged to engage in during the Trump years: Someone would ask, If Trump were a Democrat, would Democrats have embraced him? And we were all expected to nod sagely and say, Yes, that could have happened. Trump was never ideologically pure. Democrats might just as easily have embraced a populist demagogue like Trump.

Except that we wouldn't have embraced Trump or someone like him. We never do.

Over the years, Democrats have had the opportunity to embrace far less dangerous demagogues than Trump -- Alan Grayson, Michael Avenatti -- and we passed. The Democratic mainstream rejects conspiracy theories -- for instance, that 9/11 was an inside job.

So you can't ask Friedersdorf's question as an abstraction. The answer depends on the specific behavior of the politcian, and the politician's fan base. Trump's Twitter feed has been Rwandan radio for some time now, and he has a large following eager to burn the government down. Until there's something comparable on our side, Friedersdorf's question is moot.

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