Tech’s Crackdown on Extremists Isn’t a First Amendment Issue

Trump is far from being silenced. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

It has been a momentous week for politics, tech, and business. On this week’s Pivot podcast, Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss Twitter banning Trump for good, major corporations backing away from some politicians, Parler’s struggle to stay online, and more fallout from the Capitol riot.

Kara Swisher: After last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — I would call it a coup, but whatever you want to call it — Twitter permanently banned Trump from using the platform. Trump has also been banned by Facebook indefinitely, along with Instagram, Shopify, and Stripe, the payment company that was processing transactions on Trump’s website, is also severing ties. And there’s tons more, including the PGA Championships not happening at a Trump property. Meanwhile, Parler, which was the alt-right alternative to Twitter, has gone dark. Over the weekend, Apple and Google kicked it off their app stores. Amazon said it would no longer host the site on Amazon web services. A spate of smaller vendor companies like Okta and others have suspended their vendor relationships. So a lot happened over the weekend. Suddenly the things we had been talking about for years, Scott — they suddenly came to Jesus.

Scott Galloway: Yeah, but let’s be clear. Let’s be clear. Jack Dorsey did not kick Trump off the platform; Mark Zuckerberg did not shut Trump’s account down. Stacey Abrams did. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Jack Dorsey decided to stop hate, polarization, and insurrections 1,449 days into a 1,460 day tenure. Way to go. Way to go, Jack.

Swisher: Yeah, it was a little late.


Twice weekly, Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher host Pivot, a New York Magazine podcast about business, technology, and politics.

Galloway: We were talking about it this morning. If I come home after being on vacation for two weeks and I see my son vacuuming the living room, my first inclination shouldn’t be, “Oh, that’s great. He cares about the house and wants to be a good guy.” No, he’s not. No, he’s not. He’s thrown a rave and has been selling meth and molly for the last two weeks out of the house and is trying to cover his tracks. And that’s what these guys are doing. This is like Lorraine Bracco trying to cover up the evidence. They deserve absolutely no credit. So, okay, first off, first off, Stacey Abrams kicked Trump off these platforms. And not only that, Amazon — sit back. You’re going to love this because it’s about you. Jeff Bezos didn’t kick Parler off AWS. Kara Swisher did.

Swisher: No, I didn’t.

Galloway: Because that interview with the CEO [John Matze] you did pointed out that this guy is the newest addition to the menace economy. And people have realized, “Wait, hate speech can lead us down a bad road.” So they don’t have the same First Amendment quote, unquote “protections” that we so dearly hold and have been totally perverted, which make absolutely no sense. And guess what? They still have a pretty free, open, progressive society where people can get most of their viewpoints across.

Swisher: It is interesting, the reaction. I had been talking to him for a while about coming on the show. And then when the coup happened and I’m sitting a mile away from it, I thought “now is the time.” And so I got him in in the evening as things were getting under control over in the Capitol, which is about a mile, mile and a half, from my house. And the way I wanted to approach the interview was to let him talk. Everyone’s like, “Oh, Kara, you got him.” I’m like, I didn’t get him. He got himself. He said the quiet part out loud. He did the unfortunate thing, which is telling the truth about what he thinks. And then he talked about the system to police the site, which was laughable. It was a laughable system. And so I just let him go on. And then when he said a bunch of ridiculous things like that the New York Times promotes looting, I pushed back. He kept doing the Trumpy things and I pushed back appropriately. I just got out of the way, which it’s difficult to do in an interview like that. But I think it worked best.

Galloway: It reminded me of that debate between Obama and Romney, where he realized Romney was digging himself into a hole. And Obama said, “Please proceed, governor.” And it was like, you knew this guy was going to dig his own grave.

Swisher: I didn’t. I was surprised, I have to say. But pushing back appropriately when he really lied, when he was really telling untruths — we talk about this a lot, but there’s a lack of thought, a lack of thought about consequence, a lack of thought about impact. Just like we talk about Robinhood or Facebook or anything else. He is sort of the quintessence of that. Like, “Well, not my problem. I just run the room where they’re planning the assassination of Lincoln. What do I know about it? But it’s not my fault that they’re planning it.” He kept going, “They’re mad.” I’m like, “I’m mad, but I don’t go over to the Capitol and trash it like, like I’m some Duck Dynasty terrorist.”

Galloway: Duck Dynasty terrorist. That’s good.

Swisher: That’s what they look like. We all laugh about it — horn guy, guy doing parkour, and this and that. If you see the videos coming out now and you see the intent of the people, there was an intent to kill our representatives.

Galloway: Terrifying.

Swisher: This was an attempted coup, as funny as they look. A lot of them were just taking selfies and doing stupid shit. Others were there for much more malicious intent. And the whole thing being egged on by Josh Hawley, whose career it looks like is ruined, and Ted Cruz, same thing — they deserve everything they’re getting.

What’s fascinating is they all shifted to this narrative: “I’ve lost 50,000 people. I’ve lost this many people. It’s because Twitter started cracking down on QAnon.” What do you make of this argument, that they’re losing people on Twitter because of this?

Galloway: You wonder how we got here. And I do want to acknowledge the seriousness and the tragedy of the moment. There’s an image that really rattled me. And it was an image in, I guess, the rafters of the Congress. And it was a congressman from Colorado trying to comfort an absolutely terrified representative, an elected representative of our country, who was lying flat on her back. And you could see she was in a state of sheer terror and they’d had to board up or secure the room with furniture. And you saw in this woman’s eyes, she thought she was going to be murdered. Every 675,000 of us are represented by one of these individuals. This was absolute mob rule. And the notion that we’re all then trying to figure out a way to have 30 something CEOs mete out justice for us. I mean, how did we get here? That’s our solution? To get Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey to take them off their platform?

Swisher: The idea that it’s a First Amendment is driving me crazy. It is not a First Amendment issue. At one point, I was like, these people, the Ted Cruzes and everybody else — you’re socialists. You want to have the government tell private companies to do business with organizations that allow terrorist activity. I don’t think so. This has zero to do with the First Amendment. They’re private companies. They can do whatever they want.

The selfishness of these people to focus on their Twitter count over what happened at the Capitol is … I’m going to ride them to the end, this group of people. It’s really an astonishing reaction. And then to try to say, “Oh, let’s move on.” Like, you want to move on? That’s what tech people do, by the way. Remember when I did that interview with Mark, where he said, “Myanmar and India, let’s move on and figure out solutions. “That’s exactly what Mark did, the same thing.

Galloway: You’re exactly right. The First Amendment goes something like this: that Congress shall not prohibit speech of anybody. And there are some carve outs. You can’t run into a theater and yell, “Fire,” but for the most part, they say you have to let people in organizations have free speech. But the First Amendment doesn’t demand that private companies have to allow speech. I went on CNBC every Wednesday for five years, and then for whatever reason, they decided they didn’t want me back on. And guess what? That’s their right.

Swisher: Censorship, Scott.

Galloway: That’s their right. They’re a private company. And let’s be honest about Twitter. Twitter stock was at about 27 bucks when Trump got elected. It had dipped, it had dipped, it had dipped. And then when he got elected, it started skyrocketing. It went to 55. And this morning, when he was kicked off, the first trading day after he was kicked off, it dropped 10 percent. Twitter has built an economic model to enrich the shareholders and the management team and the board, based on infective venom and incursion. And when you build a business where you link enrichment to hate and to a mob overrunning our government, it means that company no longer works. And the CEO and the board should be held accountable.

The notion that this has anything to do with the First Amendment is ridiculous. It has to do with companies deciding to build an economic model based off of teen depression, off weaponization of our elections, and at this point, of violence. And another thing, Senator Pat Toomey, who I actually like, was on Meet the Press, and he said, “He crossed a line. We never expected him to do this.” Well, guess what? Drunk drivers typically have driven drunk 200 times before they get a DUI.

Swisher: And by the way, we’ve seen Trump drunk driving on Twitter all the time.

Galloway: Not only that. On Twitter, there were plans made to kidnap the governor. There was a woman run over in Virginia. Basically, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey had been driving drunk and they never got pulled over. And they knew that eventually, a minivan full of people and kids was going to get killed. And maybe they didn’t want them to get killed, but they have been driving drunk. They’ve been behaving irresponsibly. And this notion that, “Oh, we were just complying with the First Amendment.” Twitter knew it had a financial incentive to keep up his incredibly vile communications. And by the way, we pay for a podium and a press room at the White House. These guys have no problem getting media coverage.

Swisher: Yeah, that’s right. That’s the other thing, is I can’t speak now. I’m like, “Hello, you’ve got the entire press corps of the world staring at you.”

So let me ask you another question. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is suspending its political contributions to members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College count. American Express and JP Morgan Chase said they will no longer donate to candidates who supported last week’s insurrection. Citigroup also confirmed that it is pausing all federal donations for the first three months of this year. Business leaders are really piling on. This is, again, too little too late as far as I’m concerned. But what do you think? I think this is actually a big deal — the Manufacturing Association of America wanted the 25th Amendment and impeachment.

Galloway: I think it’s healthy. And actually, just a shout-out — I think Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld at Yale has played a critical role here. He’s been assembling all the CEOs and saying, “Are you comfortable with this?” And unfortunately, we have this enormous vacuum, and it’s unhealthy when we need Jamie Dimon stepping into the role that Ted Cruz, and quite frankly, Elizabeth Warren should be playing. Money and politics is obviously the mother’s milk. And they’ve said, “All right, we’ve got to cut off their funding.” And unfortunately, I think when corporations’ stocks have been going up and the tax rate that they paid on their options kept going down, despite what they saw were very troubling behavior out of the president — when it’s raining money, your incentives and your sense of urgency just kind of go away. And I think they thought, “Jesus.” It doesn’t matter how rich we are if we lose democracy, if we lose the Republic.

So I salute them, and all of us are guilty of a certain, what I’ll call, lack of sense of urgency, and what I feel we’re infected with this both-sidedness, where we feel, and you said this, we feel this need to understand them. And that’s just not true. There’s a right and there’s a wrong. These guys have been wrong for a long time and we should have taken action earlier. But I really hope there’s a level of accountability. I want facial-recognition software. And by the way, I want facial-recognition software for the people who destroyed property or people from Black Lives Matter. And I want every person that set foot in the Capitol to be tracked down and prosecuted. You can’t have healing without accountability.

Pivot is produced by Rebecca Sananes. Erica Anderson is the executive producer. 

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. 

Tech’s Crackdown on Extremists Isn’t a First Amendment Issue