Days after the Capitol riots, Twitter removed over 70,000 accounts from its platform for
perpetuating the insurrection, prolonging false claims undermining the integrity of the election, and disseminating QAnon conspiracy theories.
One of the most notable figures banned from Twitter was Donald Trump. As of Jan. 4th, Trump's Twitter account - his treasured megaphone for reaching his audience - was terminated. The justification was that Trump's account violated Twitter's rules against "glorifying violence". This decision took place days after Snapchat, Facebook, Reddit, and other platforms imposed limits on him. Along with Trump, Twitter permanently banned MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s account after he continued to claim that Donald Trump won the election.
The company described this censorship as a necessary step to protect "attempts to incite violence, organize attacks, and share deliberately misleading information about the election outcome."
However, that was not the consensus among all people. Many disagreed with Twitter's mass censorship, including Trump, who tweeted, "We are living Orwell's 1984."
Echoing the same dissapointment, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Voice of America: "Censorship, wokeness, political correctness — it all points in one direction: authoritarianism cloaked as moral righteousness... It’s not who we are."
Even some European leaders censured this big tech move, believing it to be a "problematic" move against free speech.
So, can Twitter legally ban Trump and the rest of the 70,000 users from it's platform?
Yes they can; the law is on Twitter's side.
While legal scholars say the decision to do so was bold, the company is well within its rights to ban its users if they violate company guidelines - like Trump did.
That's because the first amendment only prohibits government censorship and does not apply to decisions made by private businesses. As RonNell Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah, explains, "The first amendment limits only government actors..." and Twitter is not the government, therefore their decision to censor virtually anyone is legally backed.
As President, Trump was a government actor, so he couldn't legally block anyone from his Twitter account as he would be violating their free speech. But if he weren't president, he could easily block followers.
Nevertheless, Twitter's large-scale ban does not sit easily with the legal community.
Gregory P. Magarian, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said, "I want a wide range of ideas, even those I loathe, to be heard, and I think Twitter especially holds a concerning degree of power over public discourse."
In other words, just because the decision to censor 70,000 people was legal, it doesn't mean it's the right decision.
Likewise, "... it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield unchecked power to remove people from platforms," said Kate Ruane, an ACLU lawyer.
The termination of Trump's and the 70,000 other Twitter accounts proves to be a knotty issue. While some praise Twitter for weeding out fake news, Twitter's move highlights their immense power, which should undoubtedly trouble people.