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Politics

Trump got all he needed from Twitter. Now, he still has all the power.

President Trump used Twitter to become the most powerful man in the world. Now, that power is his to keep.

Trump got all he needed from Twitter. Now, he still has all the power.

Trump became the most powerful man in the world thanks to Twitter. Now that he's banned, he'll take that power with him.

Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash

On Friday night, Twitter announced that it was forever banning President Trump from the digital podium where he conducted his presidency and where, for more than a decade, he built an alternate reality where what he said was always the truth.

There are moral arguments for not doing business with the guy who provoked a violent mob to invade the U.S. Capitol, leaving several people dead. There have been moral arguments for years for not doing business with the guy who spent most of his early mornings and late nights filling the site with a relentless stream of pithy, all-caps conspiracy theories about everything from Barack Obama's birthplace to the 2020 election. There are also moral arguments against tech companies muzzling the president of the United States at all.

Wherever you stand, there's a hard truth to Twitter's decision to stop doing business with Trump now: Trump has already gotten all he needs from Twitter. He's already used the platform — and the company — to become the most powerful man in the world, bending Twitter's carefully-crafted rules and dancing across its neatly-drawn lines, knowing that by virtue of his position, he'd never face repercussions. Now that he has, that power is still his to keep, and it will follow him wherever he winds up next.

Deplatforming a controversial or even dangerous figure doesn't always work that way. Remember Milo Yiannopoulos? The conservative provocateur was credibly threatening to launch his own media company after being removed from Twitter and resigning from Breitbart in scandal — but when Yiannopoulos lost access to these forums, he lost his audience and effectively disappeared from public view.

But the fact that Twitter's decision is unprecedented also means that no one as powerful as the president of the United States has ever been permanently banished from any social media platform. Yes, he will soon lose the office of the presidency and the levers of power that office holds. But Wednesday's show of force by his adherents was evidence that there are many thousands of people willing to commit open insurrection in his name. And that's just the people who could afford a ticket to D.C. in the midst of an unemployment crisis. So it goes without saying that this time will be different.

As soon as Twitter broke the news, explaining that Trump's most recent tweets could be interpreted as incitements to violence in the context of this week, conservative commentators announced (on Twitter, of course) that they were boycotting the site, and invited their followers to seek them out on Parler, the far-right echo chamber of the moment. Shortly after, Google suspended Parler from the Play Store, saying in a statement that the company was "aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the U.S.," including threats on elected officials and plans for a militia march. Apple also reportedly threatened a ban on Parler as well, giving the company 24 hours to develop a moderation policy.

The president also briefly breached Twitter's blockade, tweeting Friday night from the official @POTUS account, which remains unaffected by the ban, to say he was looking into "building out our own platform in the near future." That tweet quickly disappeared, too.

Whether Trump takes his diatribes to Parler or Rumble or 4chan or any of the other platforms that would love his help in quadrupling their engagement, the man who was a media mogul long before he was president will find his venue. The only question is whether the mainstream media will, out of habit, morbid curiosity or concern for public safety, follow him there. If they — if we — do, the next four years will be no different from the last in terms of Trump's chokehold on the national conversation. If not, his audience might be smaller. But it won't be any less angry, any less capable of the violence that Twitter and Google and Facebook and the other tech companies that have taken action this week are afraid of. It will only be more insular, more tunnel-visioned, more removed from a world of information that Trump has said all along is fake news anyway.

Twitter’s future is newsletters and podcasts, not tweets

With Revue and a slew of other new products, Twitter is trying hard to move past texting.

We started with 140 characters. What now?

Image: Liv Iko/Protocol

Twitter was once a home for 140-character missives about your lunch. Now, it's something like the real-time nerve center of the internet. But as for what Twitter wants to be going forward? It's slightly more complicated.

In just the last few months, Twitter has rolled out Fleets, a Stories-like feature; started testing an audio-only experience called Spaces; and acquired the podcast app Breaker and the video chat app Squad. And on Tuesday, Twitter announced it was acquiring Revue, a newsletter platform. The whole 140-characters thing (which is now 280 characters, by the way) is certainly not Twitter's organizing principle anymore. So what is?

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

The Capitol riots scrambled FCC Republicans’ Section 230 plans. What now?

The FCC's top tech agitators have been almost silent about Big Tech's Trump bans.

The commissioners will gingerly walk a line of condemning the tech platforms without seeming like they are condoning the rhetoric that led to Trump's suspensions or the takedown of Parler.

Photo: Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images

Brendan Carr, one of the Federal Communications Commission's two Republicans, spent the better part of 2020 blasting Big Tech platforms for allegedly censoring conservative speech, appearing on Fox News and right-wing podcasts to claim that social media companies exhibited bias against President Trump and the GOP more broadly.

But in the weeks since Twitter, Facebook and YouTube suspended former President Trump and removed large swaths of his supporters in the wake of the violent riot on Capitol Hill, Carr has remained largely silent about the deplatforming, except to condemn the violence. "Political violence is completely unacceptable," Carr told reporters days after the riot. "It's clear to me President Trump bears responsibility."

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Politics

Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t save it from the Trump ban backlash

The Board's decision on whether to reinstate Trump could set a new precedent for Facebook. But does the average user care what the Board has to say?

A person holds a sign during a Free Speech Rally against tech companies, on Jan. 20 in California.

Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Two weeks after Facebook suspended former President Donald Trump's account indefinitely, Facebook answered a chorus of calls and referred the case to its newly created Oversight Board for review. Now, the board has 90 days to make a call as to whether Trump stays or goes permanently. The board's decision — and more specifically, how and why it arrives at that decision — could have consequences not only for other global leaders on Facebook, but for the future of the Board itself.

Facebook created its Oversight Board for such a time as this — a time when it would face a controversial content moderation decision and might need a gut check. Or a fall guy. There could be no decision more controversial than the one Facebook made on Jan. 7, when it decided to muzzle one of the most powerful people in the world with weeks remaining in his presidency. It stands to reason, then, that Facebook would tap in its newly anointed refs on the Oversight Board both to earnestly review the call and to put a little distance between Facebook and the decision.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.

Big Tech gets a win from Biden’s sweeping immigration actions

Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai praised President Biden's immigration actions, which read like a tech industry wishlist.

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden signed two immigration-related executive orders on Wednesday.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Immediately after being sworn in as president Wednesday, Joe Biden signed two pro-immigration executive orders and delivered an immigration bill to Congress that reads like a tech industry wishlist. The move drew enthusiastic praise from tech leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

President Biden nullified several of former-President Trump's most hawkish immigration policies. His executive orders reversed the so-called "Muslim ban" and instructed the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the Trump administration had sought to end. He also sent an expansive immigration reform bill to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals and make it easier for foreign U.S. graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the United States, among other provisions.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Politics

This is the future of the FTC

President Joe Biden has named Becca Slaughter acting chair of the FTC. In conversation with Protocol, she laid out her priorities for the next four years.

FTC commissioner Becca Slaughter may be President Biden's pick for FTC chair.

Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

Becca Slaughter made a name for herself last year when, as a commissioner for the Federal Trade Commission, she breastfed her newborn baby during video testimony before the Senate, raising awareness about the plight of working parents during the pandemic.

But on Thursday, Slaughter's name began circulating for other reasons: She was just named as President Joe Biden's pick for acting chair of the FTC, an appointment that puts Slaughter at the head of antitrust investigations into tech giants, including Facebook.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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