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Trump ban sparks fears over power of Big Tech

Has Big Tech gone too far? As social media sites slap bans on Donald Trump, some are applauding their firm stance – while others worry it sets a dangerous precedent for free speech. “I think that the ban of Donald Trump on Twitter is an unacceptable act of censorship”, the thread began. “A decision”, it continued, “based on emotions and personal political preferences”. Who was writing? Not Rudy Giuliani or Ivanka Trump, nor the President himself. No, it was his sworn enemy, the Russian opposition leader and pro-democracy activist, Alexei Navalny. Twitter announced that it would permanently ban Trump’s account on Friday. Soon afterwards other social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Reddit, followed suit. Many are relieved. But some think this has chilling implications for freedom of speech. Navalny is no fan of Trump. But he is worried that a precedent has been set, that “will be exploited by the enemies of freedom of speech around the world”. Trump is not the only one finding himself deplatformed. Millions of users were affected when Parler, a conservative alternative social media platform, was taken off Amazon’s servers, which previously hosted the site. Many have pointed out that social media companies today have extraordinary power over what we publish, read and ultimately what we think. By harvesting data on our interests, hobbies and views, they can influence what information we receive – and, most importantly, they can block us from accessing ideas that they do not want us to see. While Parler was a hotbed of conspiracy theories, it was also the main competitor to mainstream social media sites, with 15 million users. Some think it is wrong that Amazon, a private company, was able to shut it down. They claim that Big Tech now wields a power similar to that of the medieval Catholic Church, which strictly controlled what people could write and censored those whose ideas it disapproved of, like Galileo. Twitter has defended its decision by arguing that it had to ban Trump’s account to prevent him from encouraging violence. And supporters of the ban point out that incitement to violence is not protected under free speech laws. They argue that social media companies have only done what was necessary to prevent further violence before Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January. But some argue that social media companies have profited from Trump’s controversial behaviour for years, and have only dropped him now because they were afraid of negative publicity. They point out that Twitter has not deleted the accounts of leaders like Xi Jinping, who could also be accused of using the site to spread misinformation and incite violence. And they worry that this decision has set a precedent that could lead to social media platforms censoring voices they do not like. But some think that it could turn out to be the dawn of a new era in the history of the internet. They suggest that this case proves that Big Tech needs to be regulated democratically to protect free speech. Navalny proposes that Twitter should create a public committee to make independent, transparent decisions on banning accounts. Some think that we could go further, removing these platforms from private ownership entirely and letting their users decide how they should be run. Has Big Tech gone too far? Antisocial media Yes, say some. Twitter has crossed the Rubicon by banning Trump’s account. Along with Amazon’s decision to no longer host Parler, this means that two unaccountable private companies have decided that millions of people should not be able to exchange ideas and information on large social media platforms. Big Tech is now a threat to everyone’s free speech. Not at all, say others. Whether we like it or not social media platforms are here to stay, and that means their owners must have a responsibility to protect us from misinformation and incitement of violence. Trump was only banned after repeatedly violating Twitter’s rules: there is no evidence that social media sites want to start censoring opinions regularly. KeywordsAlexei Navalny - A well-known opposition leader in Russia and critic of Vladimir Putin, who died in prison in 2024 at the age of 47.

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