Assume You’ve Been Hired by a Think Tank
And my student’s digitally displayed research paper — The Debate Over President Donald Trump’s Tweets
In my AP US Government and Politics course this past semester, I challenged my students.
“Assume,” I said, “that you been hired by a think tank to research both sides of a political question debated in America today; then share your research findings in the form of a digitally displayed research paper, being sure to close out with where you stand on the question debated.”
One of my students, Ariel J., readily accepted my challenge and after several drafts produced the research paper appearing below.
The Debate Over President Donald Trump’s Tweets
In January 2021, in the final days of his presidency term, Donald Trump’s Twitter account was permanently suspended by Twitter “due to the risk of further incitement of violence” (BBC.News).
This sounds like big news, but why is this controversial?
Twitter (originally Named Twttr) was created in March of 2006 as a microblogging and social networking company by co-founders Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams (History.com: Twitter Launches). The company was officially launched on July 15, 2006. It is a purpose-driven private company that has a social media site that acts as a platform for its users to communicate, share, and work with people around the world. This famous social media giant allows users to share short messages (or “tweets”) each limited to 140 characters. Twitter’s primary purpose is to “connect people and allow people to share their thoughts with a big audience” (Caroline Forsey(01/29/2019)).
Donald Trump, an American politician and businessman who served as the 45th President of the United States from 2017 to 2021, was born on June 14, 1946 in Queens, New York (whitehouse.gov). Trump had previously attended New York Military Academy and the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. Trump’s father, Fred Trump, was a highly successful real estate developer. Before Donald Trump graduated from University, he was already involved in real estate and construction. After Trump took over his father’s firm, he renamed it the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization was involved in projects involving “hotels, resorts, residential and commercial buildings, casinos, and golf courses, both in the U.S. and abroad” (whitehouse.gov).
Later in his life, Trump ran as a presidential candidate three times in 2000, 2016, and 2020. He won the 2016 U.S. presidential election and officially served as the country’s 45th President from January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021 (whitehouse.gov).
In the twelve years since joining Twitter in May 2009, Trump has tweeted around 57,000 times — including 8,000 times during the 2016 election campaign and 25,000 times during his presidential term (Maegan Vazquez (12/18/20)).
For years, critics have debated whether or not Trump should be suspended from significant social media platforms such as Twitter due to the risks that he posed to public safety — namely, the wide dissemination of misinformation (nytimes.com). When Twitter permanently banned him from its platform in January 2021, his Twitter account had over 88.9 million followers.
On January 6, 2021, a mob of Trump supporters who sought to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election attacked the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. (George Petras (01/07/21)). The mob specifically interrupted the Congressional joint session that was assembled to formally count the electoral votes to verify President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
Following the January 6 Capitol riot, Twitter applied an initial 12-hour suspension on Donald Trump’s account, making it the first social media company to take permanent action against Trump in relation to these events (Haley Messenger (2/10/21)). The company would later make the decision to officially ban Trump from Twitter altogether over a pattern of behavior that violated company rules, tweeting on January 8, 2021: “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account [ ]… we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence” (“Permanent Suspension of @realDonaldTrump” by Twitter Inc. (01/08/21)).
Based on the rules of Twitter, there are several reasons for flagging, reviewing, suspending, and/or terminating an account. For one, plain fake accounts that introduce security risks to the community of Twitter users will be suspended. Additionally, accounts whose security are at risk, being hacked or compromised, will be suspended until “it can be secured and restored to the account owner in order to reduce potentially malicious activity caused by the compromise” (Twitter Account Management). Lastly, Twitter accounts that engage in abusive behavior (such as posting threats) or violate the Twitter Rules will be either temporarily or permanently suspended (Twitter Rules).
For years, Twitter has been under intense pressure from critics to limit the power of Trump’s tweets due to his frequent dissemination of misinformation — or “fake news” — to his audience. For years, members of the public community have also called for Trump to be banned not only from Twitter, but from other social media platforms like Facebook as well. Following the violent riots that took place at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 after Trump posted a series of tweets attempting to invalidate the result of the 2020 presidential election, Twitter finally made the decision to permanently suspend his account. “Now, @realDonaldTrump is gone for good and attempts to evade the ban will result in enforcement,” Twitter officials stated (Bobby Allen (1/08/21)). A close review of Trump’s recent tweets surrounding the January 6th Capitol riot attacks, as well as the context around those posts, led the company to examine how his words were being received and interpreted on/off Twitter. Twitter’s investigation of this matter ultimately led the social media giant to permanently suspend Trump’s account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company said in a statement on its decision to ban the former president from using its platform (Id.).
To date, Twitter’s permanent suspension of Trump’s account was the biggest punishment that any major social media company has ever taken against Trump, who was known for frequently using his account to tweet White House policies, attack enemies, and widely spread false information to the public (Bobby Allen (1/08/21)). Twitter’s suspension of Trump’s account not only called the public’s attention to social media community rules and the grand impact of misinformation, but also led some to seriously debate other considerations such as data privacy. Generally speaking, data privacy is defined as the range that technological companies have on their access to individual private (user) information and the data access limits that are placed on such companies, if any (“Should Big Tech Own Our Personal Data?” by Kate Green (02/13/19)). After the incident, some argued that although Twitter was justified for suspending Trump’s account due to the “emergency context and the immediate threat Trump posted” (washingtonpost.com), the ban also reflects the massive power private technology companies have over public speech. Some critics argued that Twitter’s suspension decision poses a certain level of threat to democracy: “top-down, private control of speech in the modern public square” (washingtonpost.com). The public’s growing concern over data privacy after Twitter’s decision to ban Trump from its platform signaled a new era of technology companies’ access to user data and their legal decision-making processes over public speech. Subsequently, the Twitter ban also garnered public attention to the limitations of social media companies when it comes to data privacy.
With these concerns in mind, some opponents of the social media ban argued that though Twitter has the right to suspend Trump’s account, it should not have done so since over issues concerning the limitations of free speech and censorship. According to The New York Times journalist Farhad Manjoo, “If you look closely at Trump’s Twitter messages, he has appeared to tack just inside the lines of the service’s rules of conduct. More than that, free speech advocates argue that Twitter’s policies ought to give great deference to political figures. Suspending Trump’s account would be censorship. Though Twitter is legally free to censor whomever it wants, it also has a duty to recognize how its actions affect the larger world.”(nytimes.com). Indeed, Twitter’s suspension of Trump’s account had a massive impact on the broader community. However, since Trump was the sitting leader of the United States at the time, his words hold a higher degree of power and influence in the community as compared to Twitter, a giant tech company. Trump’s speech and suggestions therefore would have been taken seriously by the public — and they undoubtedly were — due to his massive status as a significant leader of a powerful country, which magnified the impact of his words.
Critics, journalists, and social media experts have examined Trump’s tweets and their impact on the fateful events that led up to the January 6th Capitol riot attacks. According to an in-depth analysis on Trump’s tweets conducted by The New York Times, just two months after he lost the U.S. presidential election, Trump repeatedly told his followers that they could stop Biden from becoming president if they “fight like hell” to contest and put an end to the 2016 U.S. electoral results. Specifically, Trump tweeted, “We will never give up. We will never concede… You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about… We will stop the steal… We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore” (nytimes.com). His words expressed his desire for his supporters to not only raise their voices in protest of the electoral results, but to also act on and stop the certification of Biden’s electoral victory — even if the results were legitimate — no matter what, at all costs. Furthermore, as he boldly encouraged his supporters to ensue in what would become the chaotic Capitol riot attacks, Trump falsely stated he would be engaged in the protests alongside his supporters as well. In a series of tweets posted online, he stated, “We’re going to walk down [the Capitol], and I’ll be there with you. … We are going to the Capitol [ ] to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country… because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong” (nytimes.com). Trump’s tweets were filled with vivid, violent imagery that called for his followers to fight harder than ever before with their actions, not just their words. In response to his suggestions, thousands of pro-Trump supporters swarmed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and ensued in chaotic events. In fact, as many of his followers and police officers were being seriously injured or dying in the riot attacks, Trump himself was witnessing the violence play out on live television from the safety of the White House. In the aftermath of the Capitol attacks, 5 people ultimately died from events directly related to the riots (usatoday.com), about 140 law enforcement officers sustained injuries (washingtonpost.com), and over 700 individuals have been arrested and charged with crimes with help from the FBI and the public in one of the most well-documented crimes in U.S. history (insider.com).
For these reasons, I believe that Trump’s account should be banned(suspended) by Twitter since his words (public speech) have caused serious trouble to the public, such as the riot in January.
News Editor, BBC. “Twitter ‘Permanently Suspends’ Trump’s Account.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Jan. 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55597840.
Editor, History.com. “Twitter Launches.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 28 June 2019, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/twitter-launches.
Forsey, Caroline. “What Is Twitter and How Does It Work?” HubSpot Blog, 26 July 2021, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/what-is-twitter.
“Donald J. Trump.” Edited by White House, The White House, The United States Government, 18 Jan. 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/donald-j-trump/.
Vazquez, Maegan, et al. “Donald Trump’s Presidency by the Numbers.” CNN, Cable News Network, 18 Dec. 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/18/politics/trump-presidency-by-the-numbers/index.html.
Edited by NewYorkTimes Editor, Twitter Has the Right to Suspend Donald Trump. But It Shouldn’t, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/14/technology/twitter-has-the-right-to-suspend-donald-trump-but-it-shouldnt.html.
Petras, George, et al. “Timeline: How the Storming of the U.S. Capitol Unfolded on Jan. 6.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 9 Feb. 2021, https://eu.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/2021/01/06/dc-protests-capitol-riot-trump-supporters-electoral-college-stolen-election/6568305002/.
Messenger, Haley. “Twitter to Uphold Permanent Ban against Trump, Even If He Were to Run for Office Again.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 11 Feb. 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/twitter-uphold-permanent-ban-against-trump-even-if-he-were-n1257269.
“Permanent Suspension of @RealDonaldTrump.” Edited by Twitter Editors, Twitter, Twitter, 2021, https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/suspension.
Twitter Rules and Account Management: https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-rules.html; https://help.twitter.com/en/managing-your-account/suspended-twitter-accounts
Allyn, Bobby, and Tamara Keith. “Twitter Permanently Suspends Trump, Citing ‘Risk of Further Incitement of Violence’.” NPR, NPR, 8 Jan. 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/08/954760928/twitter-bans-president-trump-citing-risk-of-further-incitement-of-violence.
Hall, Madison, et al. “719 People Have Been Charged in the Capitol Insurrection so Far. This Searchable Table Shows Them All.” Insider, Insider, 6 Dec. 2021, https://www.insider.com/all-the-us-capitol-pro-trump-riot-arrests-charges-names-2021-1.
Jansen, Bart. “Cause of Death Released for 4 of 5 People at Capitol Riot — but Not Officer Brian Sicknick.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 7 Apr. 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/04/07/capitol-riot-deaths-cause-death-released-4-5-not-sicknick/7128040002/.
Hermann, Peter. “‘Some Are Still Suffering’: Months after Capitol Riot, Police Who Fought the Mob Contend with Physical, Psychological Pain.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 July 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/capitol-riot-police-injuries-trauma/2021/07/23/e008f0f0-d8d8-11eb-9bbb-37c30dcf9363_story.html.
Savage, Charlie. “Incitement to Riot? What Trump Told Supporters before Mob Stormed Capitol.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Jan. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/10/us/trump-speech-riot.html.
Teachout, Zephyr. “Perspective | We’re Better off without Trump on Twitter. and Worse off with Twitter in Charge.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Jan. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/01/14/trump-twitter-ban-big-tech-monopoly-private/.
Hill, Steven. “Should Big Tech Own Our Personal Data?” Wired, Conde Nast, 13 Feb. 2019, https://www.wired.com/story/should-big-tech-own-our-personal-data/.
Teacher Inserted Sidenote
During the summer of 2020 and before entering her junior year research writing class, Ariel attended a three-week-long, Monday-Friday, four-hour-per-day online research and writing class offered by the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Justice Research Academy. Click here for The Academy’s 2022 summer offering.