President Donald Trump’s latest round of attacks against Twitter and Facebook have continued through the weekend. He’s continued to use his platform to elevate white nationalists and others who spew intolerant rhetoric while threatening social media networks like Facebook and Twitter for banning similar users. While defending extremists and conspiracy theorist sites, he has simultaneously argued that mainstream news outlets should be kicked off the platforms.
Trump retweeted a video from InfoWars Saturday morning as well as InfoWars’-editor-at large Paul Joseph Watson. InfoWars had previously been kicked off Twitter, in part for spreading conspiracy theories suggesting the victims of the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings were “crisis actors.” Watson had doctored a video of CNN’s Jim Acosta interacting with a Trump staffer during a press event, which the White House then used to try to strip Acosta of his press credentials. Trump also retweeted Canadian far-right extremist Laura Southern, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as tiptoeing “at the precipice of outright white nationalism.”
Trump also issued a rebuke to news media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC, insisting they should not be allowed on Twitter or Facebook and warning, “The real story is about to happen!” regarding the “Russia Collusion Delusion.”
When will the Radical Left Wing Media apologize to me for knowingly getting the Russia Collusion Delusion story so wrong? The real story is about to happen! Why is @nytimes, @washingtonpost, @CNN, @MSNBC allowed to be on Twitter & Facebook. Much of what they do is FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2019
The vague threats continued Saturday afternoon in a tweet defending actor James Woods, who has a long history of attacking LGBTQ people, among others. He suggested that social media and news media companies “have no idea the problems they are causing for themselves. VERY UNFAIR!”
How can it be possible that James Woods (and many others), a strong but responsible Conservative Voice, is banned from Twitter? Social Media & Fake News Media, together with their partner, the Democrat Party, have no idea the problems they are causing for themselves. VERY UNFAIR!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2019
Despite the fact Trump has claimed he’s upset over “freedom of speech,” the Atlantic’s David Frum was among those who pointed out that Trump had previously expressed interest in asking the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Election Commission to take Saturday Night Live off the air for mocking him. Certainly his willingness to kick mainstream news organizations off of social media — while defending conspiracy theory websites like InfoWars — echoes this double standard.
As private companies, both Facebook and Twitter have the power to monitor speech on their platforms. It would be unconstitutional, however, for the President to exert governmental influence to try to curtail press organizations just because he doesn’t like their coverage.
Trump has used is own social media accounts to flout efforts by Facebook and Twitter to rein in hate speech on their platforms. He has every reason to believe this tactic will work: VICE reported last month that Twitter is taking a soft stance on policing white supremacist content because a hardline approach would result in banning several Republican politicians and their supporters.
The latest barrage by Trump follows years of Republican lawmakers increasingly scrutinizing social media companies for their supposedly “unfair” treatment of conservative activists. A symbol of this campaign has been the pair of Trump-supporting activists “Diamond & Silk,” who falsely claimed that Facebook had censored them. Sure enough, Trump mentioned the duo in a tweet Friday, claiming Facebook had treated them “horribly” and that the White House is still “looking into” their situation.
Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information newsletter and former editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress, contends that Trump must paint himself as a victim so that his campaign can get away with violating the platforms’ rules, such as targeting specific populations with fake information. That’s why his reaction to Facebook and Twitter’s latest round of bans — which mostly impacted conservatives — has been so explosive:
6. So Trump took a routine announcement by Facebook it was permanently banning several accounts that traffic in racism and conspiracy theories and made it a HUGE DEAL.
It makes him the victim again.
Facebook banned dozens of liberal last year on thinner grounds w/no fanfare pic.twitter.com/v2S4jsQvNS
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) May 4, 2019
So far, neither Facebook nor Twitter have backed away from the latest round of bans. Many argue, however, that the bans did not go far enough. While a few big names have been removed, many users with similar views remain, as do sockpuppet accounts for the same users that have been banned.