Donald Trump finally unleashed the Kraken yesterday, although it had little to do with electoral fraud. Instead, it had everything to do with creating frightening chaos and swallowing up enemies whole, which is, for those who actually know about the myth of the giant sea creature, a Kraken’s only job.
Thus, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube finally did what they would have had to inevitably do in a few weeks: throw him off their platforms for using their tools to incite violence and continue to egg on a mob of his followers who stormed the Capitol. Thursday morning, Facebook doubled down and banned him from posting on the platform at least until an orderly transfer of power is complete. At some point soon, Twitter will presumably restore Trump’s ability to post, after he agrees to take down the offending tweets. But in Thursday’s early hours, after Congress had officially declared Joe Biden the winner of the election, Trump used the account of longtime social-media minion Dan Scavino to say he would “respect an orderly transition” — and he also repeated inflammatory lies about the election.
All of these temporary moves are what parents of any brattish toddler might recognize as a time-out, designed to calm children and allow them to think really hard about what they’ve done. I’m using this wholly inadequate metaphor to make you quickly realize that — even though it is definitely further than just labeling Trump’s typically mendacious social-media utterances as disputed — it’s now a wholly insufficient baby step that will not suffice to stop him from fomenting more violence as soon as he gets released from the digital version of standing in a corner.
And though he lives in a permanent state of immaturity like some malevolent Baby Huey come alive, Trump is anything but that with vast levers of powers at his disposal to do some really scary things at this moment, including keeping the enragement we saw yesterday going.
That is why Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, which are the three main conduits of online communications for most Americans, must now de-platform Trump permanently.
I do not call for this lightly and have always thought that he should get a wider berth owing to being the most newsworthy person on the planet. But it’s long past time to make an example of him as a persistent violator of platform rules who cynically games their laudable impulse toward allowing as much speech as possible.
After this week’s behavior, they owe Trump nothing. More to the point, he seems to be reveling in this mess — he could barely suppress an awful winking glee in the video he posted that purportedly called for calm, but mostly trafficked in lies and praised his mob, which earned him the takedowns.
So there is zero doubt in my mind that he will return and immediately wreak even more havoc in the weeks ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president. With a demented drive to try to upend an election he lost by many millions of votes, Trump, once he gets back on the platforms, will employ close-to-the-line feints and dog-whistling tactics to turn those powerful tech megaphones to whatever advantage he can grasp onto.
And that’s because the executives who run these companies have let him do it for so long with little in the way of repercussion. They have tried — and mostly failed, given the floods of dreck that rush through their various tubes — to clean up all kinds of political misinformation. But they’ve mostly tiptoed gingerly around Trump (or even bear-hugged him, in the case of Facebook), largely terrified that he could somehow hurt their lucrative businesses.
Luckily for them — and no surprise given he is a fraud as an executive himself — Trump has been staggeringly incompetent at his superficial attempts to damage the sector. Those efforts have including trying to whack TikTok, Section 230, and Amazon’s deal with the Postal Service. Big tech is still standing, of course, and will survive this administration more powerful and more valuable than ever.
But it’s time they make it clear what they are — especially to those who have come to believe they are the public square or a place where completely unfettered speech can happen. They are not the government but only private companies that can run their services any way they like. They have a responsibility to take action when their tools are used for clearly dangerous purposes.
Far too much of this debate has focused on the First Amendment — which only states that only Congress and no one else shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech — and too little on the responsibility that leading companies and those who run them have beyond their bottom line.
A move to permanently ban Trump would dovetail with a concept that has been taking root in Silicon Valley recently around “compassionate” or “inclusive” capitalism, which aims to serve numerous stakeholders well beyond just corporate shareholders. That includes helping protect a healthy society and turning back those who seek to do otherwise.
Twitter — Trump’s favored online communications vehicle — says as much in its civic integrity policy, noting that “you may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes.”
Well, he has done that over and over on social media, raging like the monster that he has always been. Now, from out of the deep, the monster has jumped over into the real world to swamp us all. Trump himself is the Kraken we were promised by his flunkies, and he was here the whole time. It is past time to take countermeasures.