I thought I would feel some relief when the social-media giants came to their senses and let Donald Trump back on their platforms. Yet now that it’s happened, now that Meta has decreed that Trump has served his time in the virtual wilderness and may once again post on Facebook and Instagram, I just feel unnerved. Unnerved by the extraordinary power these people wield over who may and who may not engage with the billions of souls who gather online. Unnerved by their supranational authority to grant or rescind a licence to speak in the global town square. Unnerved by the historically unprecedented dominion this small clique of the woke rich enjoys over the liberty to utter.
The unbanning of Trump feels less like a victory for freedom of speech than a triumph of Silicon Valley Caesarism. It sends the message that it is for these Emperors of the Information Age to decide who may enter the modern arena of discussion, who may have to be expelled, how long they should be expelled for, and under what conditions they may be permitted to return once their punishment is complete.
Indeed, even though Meta’s statement on readmitting Trump to Facebook and Instagram is justified in the language of freedom of speech – ‘The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying’, it says, with staggering gall, given it spent the past two years preventing the public from hearing what Trump was saying – it also says it will keep a tight leash on Trump. If he violates any of Meta’s protocols, he’ll be suspended again, they warn, for anywhere between one month and two years. So the politician may speak to the people, so long as he says nothing to offend the arrogant hip capitalists who control 21st-century public discussion. Their message is crystal clear: ‘We’re still in control, and we always will be.’
Trump was banished from social media in January 2021. Following the Capitol Hill riot of 6 January, virtually all of Silicon Valley decreed that he should be unpersoned, blacklisted, silenced. He was kicked off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify and Twitch. YouTube, Reddit and TikTok brought in stiff restrictions on the expression of pro-Trump sentiment. Evil Google and Apple removed the Parler app from their stores, so that the virtual masses wouldn’t be able to access the one platform that was still allowing Trump to speak.
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Author: Ruth King
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