Twitter has found itself in hot water in recent months thanks to, among other things: a harassment problem, a Nazi problem, and a “president of the United States” problem. The “president” problem is complicated, but the upshot is basically that there is somehow a nonzero chance that the way Americans find out about World War III will be via a tweet from the president, or via a tweet from @DennysDiner trying to wring engagement from the announcement.
This has led to a crisis of consciousness for Twitter, which insists adamantly that it cares about protecting free speech on its platform, sometimes even if that speech is incitement for harassment, or threats of violence on an international, nuclear level. “Twitter should ban Donald Trump” headlines wail. (As if he wouldn’t just pick up the phone, dial Fox & Friends, and practice the dark art of shitposting via telephone, as he did for decades before Twitter was invented.)
“Y’all pile on us. You really think the issue doesn’t weigh on us?” Biz Stone shot back at critics. The reason Twitter has never banned Trump is, by the company’s own admission, because he is newsworthy — merely by virtue of being president, the things he says matter. To an extent, that’s right: If the president wants to exercise his constitutional right to show his whole ass online, then the citizenry should probably know that their president wants to show off the entirety of his monstrous ass.
In standing by and doing nothing (or, relatively little) about the Trump situation on their private platform that they can regulate arbitrarily and however they want, Twitter’s minders can be seen as complicit in whatever catastrophe he sets off. But they don’t need to be. Moderators for message boards and other online communities have been dealing with terrible attention vampires like Trump for literally decades. The technology has been developed to deal with the president without setting off an international incident. Twitter just needs to implement it. Twitter needs to hellban Donald Trump.
The hellban, or shadowban, is a message-board moderation tactic in which trolls are able to continue posting — but their posts appear only to themselves, and are hidden from everyone else. Think of it as a systemwide mute. In effect, it allows trolls to continue shitposting, but cuts them off from the attention and response that perpetuate and encourage said activity. Eventually, when nobody responds to their posts for long enough, they disappear.
Twitter should do this with Trump. Let him send tweets, and let them appear on his phone, and then not display the tweets in anybody’s feed. He’ll get the endorphin rush of clicking that big honkin’ tweet button, and everyone else will get to not die asking, “What’s that?” — just before the nuclear shock waves vaporize them. I call that a win-win.
“But wait, Brian, won’t people notice when the president stops tweeting?” No? Maybe someone finally wrestled his phone away from him. That’s a fun lie we can tell ourselves instead. The president was tackled by John Kelly and four Secret Service members while Jared huddled in the corner, eyes squeezed shut with his hands over his ears.
You might think that people would notice when POTUS doesn’t show up in their timelines. You’d be wrong. There are many excuses for why you’re not seeing the president’s tweets.
Maybe it’s the algorithm. “The algorithm isn’t surfacing them, because it is tailored to prioritize things you want to see. We will not explain how the algorithm works.”
Maybe it’s a technical glitch. “Oh, you’re not seeing the president’s tweets? Hmm. We’re definitely seeing them on our end. Try clearing your cache and wait 20 minutes. Log out and back in again, and maybe then you’ll start seeing the tweets.” (You won’t.)
It’s true that eventually the jig would be up, at which point Twitter should gate Trump’s tweets by requiring informed consent, kinda like when you have to click the “I AM 18” button on adult-entertainment websites, or certain videos on YouTube. You just go to twitter.com/realdonaldtrump, click “I know what’s up,” and get shepherded past the virtual beaded curtain into the moist, dimly-lit corner of Twitter where the president expectorates mindlessly. Like a locked account, you would not be able to retweet or quote-tweet him.
Anyway, I’m just an idiot who doesn’t get paid anything to run Twitter. But I think this is a good idea. Biz, Jack, this one’s on the house.