Pattern Matching

The Instagrammed Insurrection and the Great Deplatforming

Booting Trump won’t solve social media’s problems. But it’s not a bad place to start.

Will Oremus
OneZero
Published in
7 min readJan 9, 2021

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Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The president of the United States is no longer allowed to post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, or Shopify. Twitter said Friday night that its ban was permanent — and it was swiftly followed by suspensions of the @POTUS and @TeamTrump accounts when Trump attempted to use those instead. When Trump tried tweeting from the account of Gary Coby, his digital campaign director, Twitter promptly suspended that, too. The nonprofit First Draft started a helpful Google Doc to keep track of all the platform responses to the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.

Meanwhile, Google suspended the “free speech” social app Parler from the Google Play store, and Apple was threatening to do the same on its iOS App Store, imperiling a right-wing refuge that some expected to become Trump’s new platform. An evidently apoplectic Trump spent Friday evening “scrambling to figure out what his options are,” Politico reported. Before he was booted, he tweeted that he’s “negotiating with various other sites” and suggested he might even try to build his own social platform. (I have an idea for what to call it.)

In a column earlier this week, I wrote about how Facebook departed from its own rules to suspend Trump, and predicted that Twitter would soon find some pretext on which to ban him as well. It seems to have done just that, interpreting two comparatively anodyne Trump tweets on Thursday as grounds for permanent dismissal by reading beyond the text itself and into how it was being received by some of his conspiracy-minded supporters. (You can read Twitter’s blog post justifying the ban here.)

While my column might come across as a criticism of the decision to boot Trump, that wasn’t really my intent. What deserves criticism is the platforms’ longstanding effort to present their content moderation policies as objective, neutral, and consistent, when they are revealed on a regular basis to be mutable in the face of changing circumstances and public pressure. Of course deciding what speech to allow, and whom to allow to speak, is a highly subjective endeavor, and the…

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