Two recent events on Twitter both highlighted some important questions about Twitter as a public square and how we respond as a society to it.
The first one is Trump being banned from Twitter for what Twitter called a “risk” of inciting violence but not actually inciting violence. His rally calls to his more extreme supporters to come to Capital Hill to “stop the steal” may have been ill advised following the violence, deaths and carnage in one of the most hallowed of American institutions and undoubtedly led to his supporters believing they were following his orders, but there was no tweet making the order.
The other one is the less well know tweet from Leeds United mildly using emojis to question Karen Carney’s naive comments about how Leeds were promoted last season with the help of COVID. The apparent torrent of nasy and sexist abuse that erupted from one questionning tweet was unacceptable and disgusting.
Both Trumps and Leeds’ specific share one broad similarity – the abuse that emanated from a simple tweet that sought to challenge others. Both had unintended consequences. The lesson that society learns again is how Twitter has become a complicated monolithic public square that simply cannot be managed nor is there much agreement on how. Some of Trumps’ more unsavoury followers went on to commit physical violence and some of Leeds less intelligent followers used Twitter to threaten and bully.
Twitter frankly has no way of controlling this. It cannot stop unintended consequences because it is a public square that anyone and everyone can join in with little in the way of comeback for them. Cowardly nonetheless.
But is Twitter the rightful arbiter of freedom of speech? By banning Trump it clearly is not. By banning a president whose only crimes are idiocy, belligerence and narcissm is a misuse of power and politically foul. Twitter may be a private organisation but it is also a public space that mediates the company’s own responsibilities.
There is no answer to the Wild West that Twitter has always been. Trump made the shocking miscalculation of not immediately condemning the so-called insurrection on Twitter and paid the price of universal condemnation. Leeds United immediately came out and condemned the disugsting tweets against Karen Carney but standing by its original and fair challenge. No pundit – man or woman – – is beyond criticism. But , in both cases Trump and Leeds United have both had their fingers burned for not learning the lessons of others that Twtter is untamed beast.