Social media bans spark censorship debate

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Jack Dorsey did not celebrate nor feel pride in banning the president from Twitter.

Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., President Trump, along with roughly 70,000 accounts connected to QAnon and #stopthesteal, had their accounts suspended from mainstream social media sites.

The rollout has caused an outcry of debate. Critics of President Trump said it’s a long-overdue action. Supporters of the President said this is dangerous censorship.

“Falsely yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater is not protected speech; it’s dangerous,” said Bastiaan Vanacker, an associate professor at Loyola University Chicago and director of the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy.

He said social media companies have blanket control over who does and does not have access to their sites.

“If you talk about freedom of speech in a constitutional sense, as a legal right that we have, that is not at play here,” Vanacker said, “because Twitter is a private company.”

Media moguls cited the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 as the reason for suspending the President’s Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and other accounts.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted a Twitter thread explaining the rationale behind his decision. He said he does not “celebrate nor feel pride” in banning the President. He said he believes it was the right decision for Twitter, but the decision fragments the public conversation and sets a dangerous precedent.

Vanacker said elected officials typically get special protections on social media and have more leeway with policies and rules. He said they do this so as to be politically neutral, and that companies like Facebook and Twitter are very afraid of appearing partisan.

However, he said he believes this move on behalf of the companies was defensible.

“If Donald Trump were to tweet and give the go-ahead, chances are we would have a sequel of what we saw,” Vanacker said, referring to the mob riots on Jan 6.

The social media crackdown includes over 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon.

Some Republican lawmakers are even making moves to eliminate Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. This would hold social media accounts liable for civil lawsuits regarding the third-party content on their websites. A Santa Clara University Professor said eliminating Section 230 would be an “existential threat” to the internet.

According to the New York Times, many alt-right militia groups are now moving to new social media platforms. Some of the platforms are encrypted, making it harder to monitor and trace such groups by law enforcement and journalists.

Although Vanacker ultimately supports the move to ban President Trump, he is discomforted by the fact that a man of such power will not be publicly accessible. He said he hopes when the president is a private citizen again and no longer an elected official, he will be reinstated on Twitter and other platforms.

Below is the full interview between Bastiaan Vanacker and WMBD’s Annie Kate.

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