In the wake of Trump’s batshit executive order on social media, it looked as if Twitter was about to get fucked and fucked hard by Donald Trump.
The platform’s decision early Friday morning to conceal a Trump tweet for “glorifying violence”—so that users had to see that disclaimer first, and then click through to see the tweet itself—was stunning, and suggested that it just might be willing to fuck him right back. Trump’s tweet, quoting an infamous 1967 threat from then-Miami-Dade County Sheriff Walter Headley about how “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”—a threat that was aimed specifically at black teenagers—represented a new low even for President Good People on Both Sides.
Trump’s eagerness to call out the troops, guns blazing, marked one hell of an escalation in the Social Media Wars—with the president deliberately provoking not only corporate Twitter, but America. The echoes of Richard Nixon’s Roger Ailes-inspired 1968 “law and order” play are loud and sharp, and this time Trump will try to litigate them on Jack Dorsey’s platform. That means Donald has to play by Jack’s rules, if Jack keeps enforcing them.
I know I should couch all this in some McKinsey-speak or Valley slang. It might be more understandable to the Twitter board if I talked about the company “entering a business phase in which it will face significant challenges from political externalities that could not have been anticipated," but that’s insufficient for the fucking Trump has in store for Twitter and his plan to use the platform as a vector for an incendiary, racially charged culture-war political play.
A president completely out of control, abusing government power to achieve his political ends, and desperate to prevent any check on his colossal Niagara Falls of bullshit, is about to make Twitter an object lesson, the first trophy in Trump's expanding war against free speech.
Trump sees a soft, easy target and, like all predators, moves in. Like Roy Moore in a Build-a-Bear store, Trump has a lot of victims to choose from, but Twitter, his favorite platform, has attracted the president’s particular ire.
It evoked Trump’s rage not by censoring him, even though Trump—particularly in the past weeks—has pushed outrageous lies and vile claims that nakedly violate the site’s terms of service. What he does with predictable, shitty frequency would get any ordinary user booted from the platform. No, what sent Trump into a spiral of spittle-flecked fury was Twitter’s placing anodyne fact-checks below some of his more nakedly dishonest and inaccurate tweets, with spittle-flecked raging about how mail-in voting would usher in widespread fraud.
As a president who relied on disinformation to attain and hold power, those neutral fact-checks set off more governmental action in a month than anyone could have imagined, given Trump’s laconic response to the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And his supporters are cheering. There’s a significant subset of the Trumpiverse—incel bloggers, social-media “stars,” wannabe Fox News contributors, and writers of tiresome “but duh librul media” jeremiads at dead-ender shitholes like Breitbart—that now blames Twitter for their woes.
It strikes them as inconceivable that their tendentious, bad, stupid, racist, hateful, shitbird content isn’t gaining traction. Instead, there must be some evil libtard algorithm or Soros-funded AI on the social-media platforms suppressing their lambent wit and compelling genius.
Many of them would have been in the streets with torches and pitchforks if Obama had signed an executive order threatening social-media companies if they try to police misinformation. But with Trump it’s so much less Kenyan Muslim Socialist Soros Sleeper Agent, so we’re all good. What would have been an outrage is now a delight. “Wildly expand executive power to own the libs!”
The bullshit lies of the Tea Party Era GOP are shattered now, gone entirely.
Free markets? Hayek, please.
Markets and companies are only free as long as they’re on the Dear Leader’s Good List. I could start a company tomorrow called We Shred Live Babies in a Rusty Meat Grinder and Feed the Sausage to Stray Dogs Inc. and if the corporate Twitter feed said the right MAGA claptrap and the check to Trump’s campaign cleared, we’d be fine.
Spare me your “Only Trump will protect our economic freedumb” line: This is a president who seeks to use the power of the regulatory state (which I was told was a Very Bad Thing during the Clinton and Obama years) to break corporations to his political will.
Of the moribund strict constitutionalist wing of the GOP, the less said the better. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and others who raced to the microphones at the slightest hint of Obama overstepping the lines were damn quiet as Trump wildly colored outside the lines of any rational version of executive power.
On the legislative side, Trump has a handful of nationalist-socialist—I mean, nationalist-populist, sorry—types like Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn, and Tom Cotton who have decided that they’re the chosen ones to make Big Government work for conservatism, because what could ever go wrong?
This cohort’s eagerness to push something legislative that Trump can wield in his war on non-compliant social-media companies is unseemly, and of course, getting wall-to-wall glowing coverage on Fox News. Fortunately, their proposals have a 0.00001 chance of moving in the House before the sun cools to a dark cinder, and Mitch McConnell’s control of the Senate isn’t precisely rock-solid right now.
It’s why Trump will move fast, with hatchetman Bill Barr and the regulatory state backing his play, to make an example of Twitter. Executive-power abuses backed up by an attorney general who could not care less about the law are a virus for which Washington and corporate America have no antibodies.
Unless Dorsey and his company learn to fight back, and fast, they will go down as the tech bros who first empowered, then placated, and finally were destroyed by Donald Trump.
Jack, you don’t strike me as a guy who’s been in a lot of bar fights, but brother, you’re in one now. This executive order isn’t just Trump being Trump or simply bullshitting his base. No, it’s vastly more than that. No bully—and Trump is the apotheosis of every bully, ever—is ever satisfied with just one day’s worth of your lunch money. No bully ever turns down a free shot when his posse pins back your arms.
Take this lying down, give in one inch to his threats, and he will never stop coming at you. This is the lesson of all bullies: Punch back. Defy them. Get back on your feet and never, ever give an inch. Throw armies of litigators at the problem. Suspend his ass for a couple of days and watch him screech.
You’re still a private platform. He still signed your terms of service and president or no, he’s bound by those rules. Trust me, he’s a man who has tied up more than a few people with NDAs and contracts; he’ll get that you have his tweets in a vice. Add more features and warnings to his lies. He’s a coward and a thug; hit back. Say it with me; “Fuck me? No, fuck you, Mr. President.”
Jack, you might have seen this trend on your site from time to time; Everything Trump Touches Dies. #ETTD isn’t just a hashtag; it’s a cautionary tale.
Trump won’t be satisfied with merely avoiding scrutiny of his mendacious tweet vomit. He’ll want more, and take more, until you have nothing left to give.