In the wake of Wednesday’s storming of the US Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, tech companies and social media companies have raced to expel the movement’s members from their platforms.
President Donald Trump himself was unceremoniously booted from Twitter “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” following hot on the heels of his suspension from Facebook. Meanwhile, the right-leaning social media platform Parler, which had played host to numerous inflammatory comments relating to the riots, was taken offline after Amazon refused to service its cloud infrastructure—soon after it was banned by Google and Amazon from their app stores.
After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.https://t.co/CBpE1I6j8Y
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 8, 2021
Trump’s swift deplatforming has sparked debate from across the political spectrum; while critics such as Hillary Clinton celebrated, Trump supporters such as Montana senator Steve Daines called the president’s Twitter ban a “slippery slope.” There was also disquiet from the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union, with senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane questioning the “unchecked power” of tech companies to remove people from their platforms.
Crypto Twitter, as usual, was far from in agreement over the ban. Was it an example of Big Tech stepping out of line to censor the President, or should he get off their lawn if he wants to tear up the grass?
Crypto, with its core tenet of decentralization, positions itself as an alternative to centralized power structures; that libertarian philosophy is what attracted many crypto advocates to the space. But although the social media firms wield the power to silence even the President of the United States, many felt that they were well within their rights to do so.
A Land Divided
“Trump has no right to shout from Dorsey’s platform any more than Dorsey has the right to shout from the balcony of Trump tower,” tweeted Erik Voorhees, CEO of crypto exchange Shapeshift. Voorhees’s Telegram profile picture is of a Frédéric Bastiat, a French free-marketeer.
Twitter blocking Trump is not a violation of free speech.
Trump can say what he wishes, and so can Jack Dorsey, each with their own property.
Trump has no right to shout from Dorsey's platform any more than Dorsey has the right to shout from the balcony of Trump tower.
— Erik Voorhees (@ErikVoorhees) January 9, 2021
Hudson Jameson, a communications manager closely affiliated with the Ethereum Foundation, pitched his tent beside him, saying: “it’s perfectly acceptable if you don’t like that they banned Trump or want them to unban Trump. It’s not okay to say Twitter should be forced, via government or otherwise, to unban him. He broke the terms of service of Twitter, a private company. Period.”
I should be clear: it's perfectly acceptable if you don't like that they banned Trump or want them to unban Trump. It's not okay to say Twitter should be forced, via government or otherwise, to unban him. He broke the terms of service of Twitter, a private company. Period. https://t.co/ravlNxrst4
— Hudson Jameson (@hudsonjameson) January 9, 2021
However, Compound founder Robert Leshner spoke for the offended. While noting that, “Trump is the worst president in American history, a threat to democracy, and an international embarrassment,” he added that “…Twitter suspending his account is antiethical [sic] to free speech, and demonstrates that centralized power can and will be misused.”
Trump is the worst president in American history, a threat to democracy, and an international embarrassment…
But Twitter suspending his account is antiethical to free speech, and demonstrates that centralized power can and will be misused.
— Leshner (@rleshner) January 9, 2021
Something of a stalemate had occurred.
An essentially contestable market
Lawyer Stephen Palley, a partner at law firm Anderson Kill, which specializes in crypto and hard truths, broke ground with some good ol’ gatekeeping when he tweeted: “If you’re a libertarian and you’re whining about private platforms ‘censoring’ violent demagogues you are not actually a libertarian.”
If you’re a libertarian and you’re whining about private platforms “censoring” violent demagogues you are not actually a libertarian.
— Palley (@stephendpalley) January 10, 2021
Did the response to Trump’s Twitter ban suggest that Crypto Twitter isn’t as libertarian as it appears?
In his book Libra Shrugged, nocoiner David Gerard called Bitcoin an “ideology” with roots in “extremist libertarianism.” Gerard told Decrypt that, “Crypto has a lot of sincere ideological libertarians and it also has a lot of people who say the words—but their only ideology in practice is ‘number go up.’”
Regardless, he said, “the Donald Trump account is a special case that can’t really be generalized from. For the libertarian-minded, there are endless alternatives to Twitter. Anyone can start a social media site, anyone can start a private instance of [decentralized social media platform] Mastodon.” He added: “The trouble is having anyone care.”
A mixed bag, then. Some stand aloof from libertarianism, extremist or otherwise. Others grant Twitter a free pass to censor the President in the name of freedom. More yet remain silent, intermittently refreshing CoinMarketCap as they wait for a shooting graph.