“You can almost feel the quiet out there, online, with Trump gone,” she said.
But the practice is controversial among both right-wing partisans who take umbrage at their allies being silenced, and free speech advocates who worry about the power Big Tech has to unilaterally quash public debate.
“We are concerned when the arbiters of what has become the public sphere silence or remove access to major political voices in general, whether that be Donald Trump or anyone else who holds actual governmental power,” said Nora Pelizzari, director of communications at the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Pelizzari, who noted her organization has not been tracking the Trump case closely, acknowledged that 1st Amendment free speech protections apply only to the government — meaning it’s not unconstitutional for Facebook, or any other private platform, to moderate user content. But, she added, we “live in a world where huge, huge swaths of public discourse, political conversation, socio-political debates are happening on platforms owned by private entities.”
(The idea that social media platforms have become so big and important to our lives that they now constitute de facto public forums is common among champions of a “public utilities” approach to social media regulation, and was recently given some credence by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.)
“When you don’t allow certain voices on certain platforms, that doesn’t mean that they’re silenced; that just means that they find other platforms,” added Pelizzari — often more lightly policed ones.
But the winner-take-all dynamics of social media make it difficult for niche services to attain critical mass. The anti-censorship platform Frank, developed by MyPillow CEO and Trump cheerleader Mike Lindell, has struggled to get off the ground amid rampant technical issues. (Lindell has himself been permanently banned from Twitter).
Parler, the conservative-friendly Twitter clone that many anticipated Trump would migrate to after he got booted off more mainstream platforms, went dark when the private companies that ran its low-level infrastructure pulled their support. (Parler later reemerged with Russian backing).
Meanwhile, Trump seems disinclined to throw his weight behind any platform he doesn’t own a piece of. Rather than join Parler or Gab after his Facebook and Twitter bans, Trump simply founded a new personal website, posts from which now get recirculated among his base over apps like Telegram.
On Tuesday, he launched another one designed to mimic the look of a social media feed, with short posts, “From the desk of Donald J. Trump.” The posts have buttons allowing users to like and share them on Twitter and Facebook.©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.