COLUMBIA– Brett Johnson, an MU Assistant Professor of Journalism Studies, broke down the social, political and legal implications of President Trump’s ban from major social media platforms like Twitter.
Twitter’s decision to ban Trump comes after rioters broke into the Capitol Building in Washington Wednesday.
Johnson explained that the banning of Trump from Twitter can mainly be seen as a business decision.
“Twitter has no vendetta against Trump. They’ve been the foremost benefactor of him,” Johnson said. “Twitter has made billions of dollars on the outrage that comes from the partisan divide in this country.”
But the political outrage present on Twitter and other social media sites presents an economic dilemma for these companies.
“They have to balance all these other stakeholders. Who is this going to anger? Is it going to anger a lot of people who use this site? Are they gonna lose followers?” Johnson said. “These social media companies play a very dicey game because a lot of them make their money off of outrage.”
Although Twitter profits from user interaction, “they can’t go so far as to turn people off and make them disappear from the site and lose interest,” Johnson said.
Johnson explained that the user policies and terms of service of social media platforms tend to be more flexible than the law.
“Twitter is not the government. Twitter is not a police force coming in and trying to silence voices. So there is no constitutional violation here. No one has any claim or right against Twitter to say you have to keep these voices on there,” Johnson said.
Twitter has built their business on public discourse. But in doing so, complications arise.
“They’re going to inevitably run into these questions about what free speech means. But free speech on these platforms means something totally different than free speech in our First Amendment tradition and what that tradition has been for the last 100 years,” Johnson said.
Although Trump now faces obstacles to voicing his opinion, Johnson believes his silence is temporary.
“Trump will have a voice. There’s no question. He had a voice before he was president. He will have a voice afterward.”