The president of the United States has hardly been seen since he lost the presidential race. But while he's kept mostly out of sight, he’s used Twitter—which gives world leaders a special pass to spread misinformation by claiming that there’s “a clear public interest value to keeping the tweet on the service” even when it’s false—to lie and instigate division with messages that would be removed, or the account taken down, if they came from other users.
On Sunday, the hashtag #DeactivateTrump trended worldwide as thousands of users, including myself, demanded that the big tech company finally put an end to Trump’s deliberate violation of the platform’s guidelines. There has been chatter that the company will do so after Joe Biden’s inauguration, on Jan. 20. But that would be a cowardly and reckless way to respond to the harm he’s doing right now.
Twitter, the time to deactivate Trump’s account is now. I can speak on this because I’ve been a part of conversations with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. As a “Twitter Voices” influencer, the company has invited myself and other notable Black, LGBTQ, and other diverse users on the app to special meetings where we offered recommendations to their senior leadership on how they can be more engaged with various online communities. For years, we have asked the platform to deactivate him and his white supremacist followers. We often got the “we hear you” and “we’re looking into it” response. But now is not the time to just hear us, but to actually do something about it.
Trump has falsely claimed that he won the election and that he’s the victim of election fraud. He’s attacked the free press, and amplified supporters who are threatening to disrupt a peaceful transition of power. In the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the election, Twitter appeared to up its monitoring of Trump’s tweets, slapping warning labels on dozens of them about how “This claim about election fraud is disputed.” That’s plainly not enough.
The company has given him more warnings than a damn babysitter at a nursery. At this point, the disclaimer is a joke because the people who it’s intended for don’t believe it. Journalists and progressives already know Trump is lying, while his supporters are either brainwashed or woefully ignorant to care what anyone else has to say about him. I have no doubt that bigots and hate groups are flocking to Trump’s Twitter account to get emboldened by his divisive rhetoric. His account is more than just a source of arguably newsworthy information, but incessant instigation. Letting Trump continue to break the rules and spread misinformation is to be complicit. By not deactivating Trump’s violent account while he is in power, Twitter is proving itself to be hypocritical in its pursuit to protect its users.
It’s hard to ignore the glaring double standard at this point. I know Black users who have had their Twitter accounts deactivated for using the n-word, but Trump, the flagrant racist, gets to refer to the coronavirus as the “China plague” while the app allows it to trend worldwide. If social critic Katie Hopkins can get permanently banned for her hateful tweets and rapper Talib Kweli can be removed for constantly trolling a Black woman on his feed—Trump should already be on the chopping block. Twitter cannot continue to ignore the great harm Trump is causing—with messages that they have to put disclaimers on daily—and still attempt to reassure users that this platform is a safe space to share ideas. We have already seen the dangers of what happens when misinformation runs wild and unchecked with Facebook. Twitter ought to know and do better.
By delaying the inevitable, the company is proving itself to be complicit in Trump’s digital misinformation regime. What would really be of “clear public interest value” would be to stop letting Trump abuse their platform. Now.