Ban Donald Trump from Twitter: It's time for the social media empire to take a stand

Banning Trump would send a strong message of resistance — not just to him, but to internet hate in general

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published December 16, 2016 6:00PM (EST)

 (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
(Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

On Wednesday, Donald Trump had a summit with major tech leaders at Trump Tower, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter was left out, even though Trump is an avid Twitter user and uses the service repeatedly to hijack the news cycle with his fact-free rantings. According to a report from Politico, Dorsey got snubbed because he refused to let Trump create a special emoji to deride Hillary Clinton, as part of Trump's larger strategy to reduce campaigns to a series of childish taunts.

But, verily I say unto you, Dorsey does not have to take this lying down. He can and should retaliate by taking away the thing Trump loves dearest in the world. No, not inappropriate photographs of his daughter Ivanka.

Dorsey should take Trump's Twitter account away. Yes, he should ban the president-elect of the United States from Twitter.

Dorsey probably won't do it. The reasons why he won't, in turn, tell us a lot about why social media has become such an effective propaganda tool for far-right activists, and why industry leaders in Silicon Valley appear so reluctant  to halt the spread of authoritarian and even outright fascist rhetoric throughout their social networks.

"Everything goes in the direction of the dollar," author and media technologist Deanna Zandt said over the phone.

Twitter isn't "white-labeling their service for other people to use," she explained. "They don’t have a premium service, where you pay to get other features. It really depends on traffic going to the website and earning ad dollars. When there are Twitter-storms and crazy things happening on Twitter, that benefits them ultimately."

Things that are "urgent or pressing or surprising or salacious" drive traffic to the site, driving up ad revenue, Zandt added. "They can say all they want that they don’t support hate speech, but this really does improve their bottom line when things are shitty on the internet.”

One thing you can say about Trump is that he is a master at making things "shitty on the internet." While there's no way to know how much money Twitter makes off Trump, it's safe to say it's quite a bit.

It's not just about Trump's 17 million followers, either. Whenever Trump tweets anything in the "urgent or pressing or surprising or salacious" categories — on average, several times a week — the news media covers it heavily, often with embedded links. People click over to retweet, comment and argue about it. Trump's stirring-the-crap tweets are clickbait gold.

No doubt the president-elect is well aware of this. In fact, his snub of Dorsey follows a well-known Trump pattern of displaying his dominance by publicly humiliating people he knows won't fight back because they want something from him. (See: Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan.) Cutting Dorsey, and making sure the press knows about it, fits this pattern.

But Dorsey can find his spine and ban Trump from Twitter.

Twitter is a private company, after all. As Aja Romano at Vox has pointed out, Trump has repeatedly violated Twitter's terms of service, which bans "harassment" and "hateful conduct." They've banned lower-level users for much less.

What's Trump going to do about it? Sue? Send Jeff Sessions around to demand his account back? Any move Trump makes will show that he's the one dependent on Twitter, not the other way around.

Banning Trump from Twitter would send a clear message: He may soon be the so-called president, but he is still a citizen and he has to follow the rules. Republicans may not be willing to hold him accountable for his dreadful behavior, but the rest of us don't have to fall in line. Trump has repeatedly signaled his enthusiasm for dictators, which gives us serious reason to fear he may be eyeballing such powers for himself. Banning his Twitter account would be an important act of resistance.

It might also be an act that helps Twitter regain its lost soul.

Zandt and I were both early adopters of Twitter — she joined in February 2007 and I joined a month later — and we commiserated over how, for the first few years, it felt like an amazing tool for progressive politics, a way for ordinary people to speak truth to power. Zandt even wrote a book in 2010, "Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking," to teach progressives how to use social media to organize and advance their values.

Just a few years later, we're looking at a social media landscape where Trump and his army of self-proclaimed "shitlords" have managed to harness that power and turn it towards evil. When I asked Zandt about that, she laughed ruefully.

The alt-right, she said, has done "some horrifyingly good work on tapping into highly emotional responses with clickbait headlines, misinformation and fake news. On the left, we talk about going back to the facts," she continued, "and we still don't realize that all the stuff we’re dealing with right now has less and less to do with facts and more to do with emotions, which are largely ignored.”

She also noted that conservatism, especially the authoritarian kind exemplified by Trump, is well equipped to organize through social media. It takes very little to get right-wingers to fall in line; they can transform from an incoherent group of like-minded people into an organized mob at the drop of a hat.

“One thing that conservatives and the right in general have that works to their advantage — that works for them and not for us — is their willingness to conform and just jump in and do what they’re told," Zandt observed. "Like, ‘Go harass this person.’ ‘Right, I’m on it!’”

One doesn't even need to give such an order directly, as Trump has learned. Last year, Trump tweeted about 18-year-old Lauren Batchelder, calling her an "arrogant young woman who questioned me in such a nasty fashion." Like an army of ants, his followers swarmed the chosen target, calling Batchelder's house, flooding her Facebook and sending her death threats by mail. A year after Trump's initial tweet, Batchelder is still the target of online abuse.

Still, while there are structural advantages for the right, especially the ugliest parts of it as exemplified by Trump, Zandt feels that social media also offers opportunities for progressives to fight bac  by embracing "emotional resonance." She emphasizes the use of memes and images, of focusing on messages that talk about people's hopes and dreams, their feelings and lives.

"Yes, we love reasons and facts," Zandt said. "But we have to acknowledge the messiness of our humanity and embrace it."

Oh, and Jack Dorsey should ban Trump from Twitter.

Jack, just for a moment -- set aside all those profit and traffic goals, the need to see those numbers rise. Embrace the emotion that so defines your platform. In this case, embrace vengeance.

Consider how good it will feel to picture Trump pressing his thumb on his Twitter app and realizing his account has been terminated. Think of the blood rushing to his face, the pounding of his 70-year-old heart, as he grasps that this time, he's the one who's gotten played.

And then think about how frustrated Trump will feel when he realizes he can't even go on Twitter to vent about it.

Ban him, Jack. There are times in life when you have to stand up for things that are more important than money and market share. This is your chance.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Alt-right Deanna Zandt Donald Trump Jack Dorsey Social Media Twitter