Pacific Dialogue
The Twitter ban is nothing about free speech
By Liang Xiao  ·  2021-01-15  ·   Source: NO.3 JANUARY 21, 2021

 

The Capitol Hill on January 9 (XINHUA) 

Donald Trump has not only lost his presidency but to add insult to the injury, even Twitter turned on him, losing no time to announce a permanent ban on his account. For a president keen on "governing by tweeting," that really hurts.   

While Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., complained free-speech "no longer exists in America," the opposition was exhilarated, saying banning an incumbent president's account testifies to American democracy and freedom, for freedom of expression is not freedom from consequences.   

Both views, however, are not without merits.  

For the Big Tech which censored Trump, that the inalienable right of free speech should be exercised within the parameters of local law, customs and beliefs is indisputable. If a person commits, say, racial or sexual discrimination in his or her speech, or like Trump uses his social media popularity to incite violence and foment a coup d'état, he or she is not protected by the right of free speech, and should be held accountable for the consequences.   

Curiously, however, when it comes to people in other countries than America, all the limits and conditions for free speech cease to exist.  

While people storming the U.S. legislative building and defying the election outcome were branded the "mob" and the account of Trump, the "rabble-rouser," was silenced, the separatists instigating violence in China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms are lauded as "freedom fighters." Their accounts are alive and kicking as ever, with boosted traffic. On the contrary, the accounts that told the truth of the Hong Kong riots and exposed the violent acts conducted by the so-called "freedom fighters" were shut down by these same Big Tech. 

Adrian Zenz, a self-proclaimed anthropologist, became an "expert" on Xinjiang after a brief visit to the area in 2007. He subsequently dishes out vilifying stories about Uygurs suffering from "forced slavery" and "genocide" on command of the White House. He keeps working on his inflammatory and divisive fiction without any restrictions. But on January 9, a post by the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. citing a study on the newfound confidence and autonomy of women in Xinjiang was deleted by Twitter for "violating Twitter rules."  

"Free speech" has become a discursive weapon: Whenever necessary, the scope is malleable and rules can be bent.  

There is nothing laudable about Twitter's suspension of Trump's account. There is a Chinese proverb, killing the donkey after the grinding is done. This is what Twitter has done. 

In April 2017, the Financial Times quoted Donald Trump as proudly saying, "Without the tweets, I wouldn't be here . . . I have over 100 million followers between Facebook, Twitter [and] Instagram." Dismissing mainstream media as "lamestream media" and "fake news," he favored direct communication with supporters via social media. With 88.7 million followers and an average of 20 tweets (sometimes even 100) a day, Trump was a Twitter phenomenon. More and more American politicians and agencies began to follow suit by posting their breaking news on Twitter first.  

Buoyed by the surge of users, Twitter quickly leapfrogged competitors to become a major information source for global media, poised to revolutionize the global news distribution model.  

The January 6 statement was not Trump's first denial of the November 3 presidential election outcome, nor his first rabble-rousing. Many of his previous statements and claims on Twitter have long deserved a ban, but Twitter gave Trump the privilege of a "world leader" by gently appending a warning label instead of removing them. But today, deserted by the American elite en masse and out of power, Trump finds himself kicked out by one social media platform after another. As Shakespeare would say, "Hares may pull dead lions by the beard."  

Twitter, doing nothing to prevent disinformation by Trump, finds the perfect time to make a clean break, partly as a token of allegiance to the new administration.  

So all things considered, Twitter's suspension of Trump's account has nothing to do with so-called free speech. What we see is a melodrama unfolding about the rough-and-tumble struggle for power and profit. And the interesting point is that the American media, congratulating themselves on muzzling Trump, can turn on China the very next moment, accusing the Chinese Government of suppressing free speech.  

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar 

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com 

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