This column is not about Donald Trump. It’s about fairness.
Should Twitter suspend President Trump’s personal account, just like it would anyone else’s if he or she violated its policies?
Trump’s tweets about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski easily transgress the company’s anti-harassment rule. Indeed, it is clear: “You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”
Nowhere in that statement is a carveout for the rich and powerful. Nowhere do we read anything about American presidents, whom, last I checked, were not czars.
This question would be rendered moot if Twitter’s rule read: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others, unless A: you reach a certain threshold of followers; B: you have a certain level of wealth; or C: you happen to be president of the United States.
But it doesn’t.
Keep in mind that a Twitter suspension is not the same thing as a ban. It’s temporary; time in the penalty box. We’re also not talking about the president’s official Twitter account, @POTUS. That belongs to the office of the presidency. We’re talking about Trump’s personal account, @realdonaldtrump. Should it be treated like everyone else’s?
Through the extraordinary power of Twitter, I posed this question to its universe of followers in a 24-hour, unscientific online survey beginning Thursday night. More than 12,000 people responded. Three percent said Twitter’s rules shouldn’t apply to a president; 4 percent said Twitter should not specifically apply them to Trump and 93 percent said Trump should be treated just like any other user.
Trump defenders made valid points. What about all the Twitter followers writing vile things about him? A case can be made there, but U.S. political figures are generally open targets under both the First Amendment and U.S. libel laws to prevent the repression of dissenting speech.
But go too far with a president and you might find the Secret Service knocking at your door, so there’s that. Also, I am aware of at least one person whose account was suspended for tweeting a slew of unflattering memes about candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign. He cannot have been alone in that.
Some Trump detractors who wrote me argued that Twitter shouldn’t suspend Trump because he often hurts himself with it. His tweet dishonestly suggesting that he taped conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, for example, may have resulted in the appointment of a special counsel. Many journalists argue that Twitter is the one medium that gives them access to the president’s direct, day-to-day thinking, so keep it comin’.
All good banter. But the fairness question remains: Should a different set of rules apply to Trump the man?
Twitter can do whatever it pleases at the end of the day. But wasn’t egalitarianism the whole premise of its platform — the idea that the little guy could exchange his ideas on equal footing with the bigs? Trump himself blocks followers all the time — as is his right — because he doesn’t like what they say about him. It’s extraordinary, indeed, that a man in his position can read what everyday people are writing about him in the first place.
As his medium of choice, Trump helped make Twitter one of the top social media sites in the world. So maybe that’s its reluctance. Would users flee in droves if their signature member were suspended for, say, 48 hours?
Or would Twitter become a 21st century model by reasserting the fundamental American ideal that all men are created equal?
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.