Twitter had the right policy

I was at Twitter and trying to influence policy in 2016, when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton and became president of the United States of America. I saw a lot of complaints and concerns aimed at Twitter, many totally reasonable, and quite a few that I agreed with personally. But I could never quite get my head around the idea that Trump should be kicked off the platform. It never made sense to me, other than through a reactionary and emotional lens.

When the President of the United States says something, it is news. They can issue press releases, they can speak to reporters, they can send White House employees to speak off record, and so forth. And part of controlling the biggest military in the world is that your words will sometimes carry a threat of violence. When George W Bush said the 9/11 planners would “hear from us soon,” that was a threat of violence. Speak softly and carry a big stick was too. Any time someone says “this aggression will not stand,” or even argues for sanctions, those are all sabre-rattling phrases. It’s all fair game. And yet when the broadcast mechanism became Twitter, people – many of whom are personal friends of mine – lost historical perspective and decided it was against the rules of Twitter and should therefore be banned. I never agreed with that.

Trump should always have been able to say that North Korea would suffer catastrophic consequences if they threatened South Korea, as childish and dangerous as his tweets were. One tweet read “Will someone from [Kim’s] depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" which caused a total meltdown on the left. Other than the existential dread, which didn’t help anyone see things clearly, there was a feeling that he clearly broke the rules and if Twitter didn’t take action they were clearly acting out of financial interest. Trump brings clicks, so let’s let him destroy the whole world, is the grand total of that conspiracy theory. It’s not a well-reasoned argument.

Imagine if Donald Trump spoke to a reporter for NBC News, who then bleeped out his response, saying it was against NBC News policy. Or if the Washington Post said they heard Trump say something about North Korea but weren’t going to report it because of concerns that it might cause a war. The country, and the world at large, would be flabbergasted by those decisions, because it’s not the job of the free press to decide what a world leader is or isn’t supposed to be saying while acting as the leader of a nation. It’s not their job. At all.

“So what you’re saying is there are different rules for me versus the President of the United States when discussing war, threats of violence, and statecraft?” Yes, and if this is the first time this has dawned on you, then good luck in the real world, buddy. A man yelling “I am going to kill North Korea!” from his bedroom window is just categorically different than a world leader declaring the same thing. Is this surprising to anyone? Do I need to draw a map? Here, I’ll convert it to Star Wars for you. Remember when Yoda said with great power comes great responsibility? That applies to both Trump and Twitter in this case. Trump can indeed say things that normal civilians can’t. And Twitter does, in fact, need to treat the words of world leaders differently than you or me. Sorry to burst your bubble, I guess? But this isn’t rocket science.

(As an aside, this is why the “misleading tweet” label was invented. The idea was “let the crap stay up, but with editorial commentary.” That sidesteps the censorship angle while trying to address misinformation. As a second aside, I 100% agreed that when Trump attempted a coup against the United States of America, that was not protected speech. Twitter did the right thing when they banned Trump that time. As did Facebook and YouTube.)

This whole debate came back to me today because now there’s evidence that Trump was using his Twitter DMs to communicate illegal activities. For a guy who famously tried to destroy evidence (ripping up papers and flushing them down the toilet, for example) it’s surprising that he forgot that Twitter DMs aren’t secure. But let’s be clear about what this development means: Trump’s use of Twitter may actually be part of the evidence that leads to his downfall. If he had never used Twitter, there still would have been a January 6th. There still would have been threats against other countries and erratic, to say the least, leadership for those four horrible years. Things would have been largely the same from an outcomes standpoint.

But we wouldn’t have had all this juicy evidence to help convict him. Twitter did the right thing, both from a policy standpoint and also from a double-bank-shot long shot accidental strategy sense. In the history books, Twitter will be part of Trump downfall. And that’s pretty sweet.