Social media’s ban on Trump: Our ‘silence of the lambs’ moment
Former President Trump’s suspension from Facebook and Instagram was upheld on Wednesday, in a decision about as predictable as death, taxes, and the sun rising in the east. After all, why would any social media companies consider providing huge platforms to Trump?
We saw which party they favored during the 2020 presidential campaign with, for example, their surprising outright censoring of the New York Post’s bombshell stories on Hunter Biden’s alleged influence-peddling. The social media giants went so far as to suspend the accounts of those who dared to share the Post’s stories. We also saw it in the campaign contributions of Big Tech giants, which overwhelmingly went to the Biden campaign.
So, when Facebook’s Oversight Board ruled that the Trump ban would continue for now, it arguably had less to do with protecting its members from Trump’s message and much more to do with protecting their guy in the Oval Office.
As for the First Amendment, that doesn’t apply here since Facebook is a private company. The amendment’s guarantee of free speech applies only to government attempts to squelch it.
You’ll hear arguments from the right that the ban will hurt Mark Zuckerberg’s business in a way his company will feel. But a look at Facebook’s stock says otherwise. When compared to May 5, 2020, its stock is up more than 100 points, or more than 50 percent. Despite conservatives threatening to flee the platform, membership continues to climb.
Overall, in the United States alone, there are nearly 230 million Facebook users, or about 70 percent of the population. It is a form of personal communication and storytelling that is completely intertwined among family, friends and businesses, in ways the world has never seen — and with almost no competition (except from Instagram, which Facebook owns).
Overall, 86 percent of Americans get their news “often” or “sometimes” from their smartphones or computers, according to polling by Pew Research. Social media is only becoming more ubiquitous as the way people receive or find that news and information. The problem is this: Many of these sources are hopelessly biased, to the point of being more like super PACs that are more influential and powerful than anything the Koch brothers or Priorities USA could ever dream of.
Trump can attempt to fight back through his new platform – which is basically a glorified blog with no interactive component – to get his message out. Such a social media effort would need to extend to, perhaps, his own podcast to be truly effective. But when considering his loss of 88 million followers on Twitter and tens of millions more on Facebook and Instagram, it’s impossible to see any scenario in which Trump can readily make himself the center of the conversation again.
As for those who think that social media companies and other tech giants will be broken up, remember that we have a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic administration in the White House. So, if you believe any meaningful legislation is going to be passed regarding the “trust-busting” of these companies, that ain’t happenin’ anytime soon. After all, why would Democratic lawmakers even remotely consider injuring their most powerful allies?
This is a “silence of the lambs” moment for media, an industry that should be universally up in arms over the censoring of public figures or other news outlets like the New York Post, the nation’s oldest daily newspaper — before they are all led off, one by one or in groups, to be silenced and effectively slaughtered. But that’s not the case, with some journalists and lawmakers actually cheering this non-fictional version of “1984.”
Love the 45th president, or hate the 45th president, it doesn’t matter. What does matter – and what is profoundly wrong, profoundly un-American – is the number of us who are willing to sit back silently and not condemn the increasing tendency of many individuals and entities, both public and private, to engage in a Soviet-style squashing of those with whom they disagree. It makes this a most chilling time in our nation’s history.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.