As I’m sure you already know, a riot broke out in the capital of the USA recently as Donald Trump supporters invaded the US Congress. In the aftermath, Trump has been removed and banned from numerous social media platforms. On today’s episode, we will look at the events of January 6th, and then discuss the idea of free speech. Free speech has been a major talking point after the banning of Trump. Should social media sites have the right to ban users because of what they say or believe?
To evacuate (v) – to move people from a dangerous place to somewhere safe
The police evacuated the village shortly after the explosion
To discredit (v) – to cause people to stop respecting someone or believing in an idea of person
Evidence of links with criminals discredited the mayor
To intimidate (v) – to frighten or threaten someone, usually in order to persuade them to so something that you want them to do
They were intimidated into accepting a pay cut by the threat of losing their jobs
To cover (v) – to report the news about a particular important event
She is covering the American election for BBC television
To excuse (v) – to forgive someone
We cannot excuse him for these crimes
Freely (adv) – without being controlled or limited
Exotic foods are freely available in supermarkets
To moderate (v) – to manage a public discussion
The local TV anchorman is going to moderate the debate
Personality (n) – a famous person
The show is hosted by a popular TV personality
There are some moments in history that I think I will always remember. One such event happened earlier this week. On January 6, supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to keep Trump in the White House and overturn the result of November’s election. The rioters fought past police and security guards to enter the Capitol Building. While shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls of Congress, politicians were temporarily evacuated and forced to hide in self defence. I was actually watching this occur on the news on my television from the start. I will never forget the BBC breaking news alert, informing me that the rioters had invaded the building. You will notice I am using the term ‘rioters’ instead of alternatives like ‘protesters’ or ‘demonstrators’ that you might see on other websites or podcasts. This is because of my personal belief that the event became a riot instead of a democratic protest.
After almost two months of constantly trying to discredit the results of the election, complaining daily that Biden’s victory was the result of fraud, and refusing to accept defeat, the rioters were encouraged by President Trump to come to Washington to protest Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s victory. Before the protest and eventual riot, Trump held a rally in Washington earlier that morning. At this rally, the president encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol as soon as the rally finished. However, what followed was what President-elect Joe Biden described as an “unprecedented assault” on Democracy. Trump supporters forced their way into the US Congress, sat in the seats of politicians, smashed windows, fought with police, stole belongings, and tried to intimidate elected members of Congress.
While all of this was happening, President Trump remained unusually quiet on Twitter. Apparently, he spent much of the afternoon watching the events on TV. It was only after being asked by his staff, Trump wrote two tweets and made a video telling his supporters it was time to “go home in peace” — but he still said he believed the election had been stolen, supported their cause, and actually said he ‘loved’ them.
Despite this, Congress returned in the evening, with lawmakers speaking out against the protests and promising to finish confirming the Electoral College vote for Biden’s election, even if it took all night. As Vice President Mike Pence reopened the Senate, he said to the mob: “You did not win.” Lawmakers finished their work before dawn on January 7, with Pence announcing the total: 306-232 for Biden.
I’ve not gone into too much detail on this event. If you want to know more, there are thousands of articles and news reports out there. You can probably tell I’m not much of a Trump supporter, and believe that what happened last week was one of the lowest moments in recent US history. This episode was not supposed to be about Donald Trump or US politics. Fortunately, however, the topic I originally planned to cover is actually connected to something that happened just after the Washington riot. I originally planned an episode on Free Speech.
Hours after the event, Twitter for the first time blocked Trump’s account, and demanded that he remove his most recent tweets. These tweets excused violence and threatened to ban him permanently. On January 8th, Twitter went a step further and announced that it was “permanently suspending” President Trump’s account. In fact, other social networks have also banned the President. Facebook has said that Mr Trump’s account will be banned “at least” until Biden officially becomes President on January 20th. Snapchat, Reddit, and Twitch have also blocked the president’s access. Furthermore, Twitter also banned the accounts of Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, two of the president’s close advisors. And it promised to do the same for accounts dedicated to QAnon, a conspiracy theory popular among supporters of Trump. It is not just social media companies that have taken action against the President. For instance, Apple, Amazon and Google have banned Parler, a Twitter alternative popular with American right-wingers, from their app stores and services. They stated that some of the rioters had used the app to plan.
What does this mean for Free Speech? Free Speech is one of the key ideas behind American democracy. It is a complicated topic, but at its most basic level free speech is the idea that you should be able to freely say whatever you want, so long as you don’t cause physical harm with your words. As I said, this is the most basic level of free speech. If anyone is interested in knowing more detail about this topic, let me know and I’ll make an episode looking at some of the different theories behind Free Speech.
Social Media companies’ decisions to permanently or temporarily suspend Donald Trump’s accounts has created a major debate over freedom of speech. Many Republicans have complained about Trump’s removal and claimed conservative beliefs and opinions are being censored. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr said: “Free speech is dead and controlled by leftist overlords.” Montana Senator Steve Daines tweeted ““Big Tech censoring [Trump] and the free speech of American citizens is on par with communist countries like China and North Korea,”
The debate about the role social media companies should play in moderating content has been going on for years. Many Republicans claim Twitter’s move is against the first amendment of the US constitution which guarantees free speech. They feel that social media companies unfairly censor and control opinions and ideas from right wing personalities. Often you will hear Republican politicians arguing that these big companies are controlled by liberal people and therefore support liberal politicians!
On the other hand, Democrats argued that the company had the legal right to make the decision – which they said was long overdue. One popular argument is that the US Constitution says the government cannot restrict speech, but social media companies are private companies. In the same way that a restaurant can ban drunk customers, social media companies are allowed to ban people who break their rules! Although Trump’s recent tweets were not actually too bad, people have been asking social media companies to ban Trump for a long time. As he is the President of the USA, these companies have allowed him to keep his account after tweeting things normal users would have been suspended for doing! However, Trump will no longer be President soon, and the companies have taken the opportunity to remove his account.
There is a famous and often repeated quote that surrounds this topic. “Freedom of Speech does not mean Freedom from Consequences.” For example, if you insult someone to their face, they probably won’t care about Free Speech and might punch you in the face! Furthermore, just because you are allowed to say what you like, does not mean companies have to let you do it on their websites. However, these social media companies have become so big, so influential, and so powerful that maybe they cannot be treated like a normal private company. Maybe the idea of free speech needs to be updated for social media! What is your opinion about Twitter banning Trump? Do you think he deserved it? Do you think social media should ban you for what you say?