Social media platforms could have banned US President Donald Trump way before he sparked so much damage, but they were profiteering off him enormously, according to local experts.

Facebook first decided to ban the US president after his supporters stormed Capitol Hill as Trump refused to concede his electoral defeat to Joe Biden. Twitter decided to follow suit and banned the president who had 88.7 million followers.

“We have never seen anything like the attack on Capitol Hill. This went way too far. But the Facebooks and Twitters of this world could also be looking at a new administration coming that might not be as tolerant of the various freedoms these platforms have,” said Dr Alex Grech, a lecturer in New Media.

Since Twitter, like other social media platforms, set their own rules and reserve the right to ban anyone at their discretion, it was important to question why they had decided to suspend Trump now and not five years ago, way before the damage had been done, he explained.

It is one thing for Twitter to ban the president, but the president cannot ban journalists from using Twitter. That would be censorship

“The answer is very simply that the content Trump generated was very useful for them because they profiteered of it,” Grech said, referring to the enormous traffic generated by the president’s infamous tweets.

The US President has repeatedly used Twitter to insult adversaries, fire officials, hit out at the media and make false claims.

'First Amendment freedoms do not apply'

Journalism professor at Iowa State University, Prof. Michael Bugeja, also called out the irony in Twitter banning Trump since the company “made multiple billions” off his tweets.

“Twitter, Facebook and other companies enjoy few regulations in America (more in Europe) that have made them immensely powerful and profitable,” he told Times of Malta.

“Social media like to think of themselves as online telephone companies that cannot be held responsible for the conversation over their lines,” he explained, “but telephone companies must honour government regulations designed to protect consumers”.

And while Twitter may have the right to censor President Trump, it may one day face the same type of regulation that telephone companies do, he said.

While many have raised the issue of freedom of speech, Bugeja said since Twitter is a private company and not a government entity then the suspension was not akin to censorship.

“First Amendment freedoms do not apply,” he said, explaining that the president had agreed to the terms of service when signing up for a Twitter account, which clearly stated that the company had the right to suspend or terminate the account at its own discretion.

“Censorship is a very broad concept entailing offensive images, words or content, and journalists do it routinely. Editors call it taste considerations. True, we can use the concept here with Twitter in that vein. But typically, censorship is associated with government entities, especially in America, because we have one of the most expansive tenets of press and speech freedoms,” he said.

“When governments try to censor individuals, that is illegal. So, it is one thing for Twitter to ban the president, but the president cannot ban journalists from using Twitter. That would be censorship,” he said.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday expressed concern about Twitter’s Trump suspension, stating “it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions”.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us