Episode 70: A Basket of Deplatformables

In the seventieth episode of The Latest, we lend a platform to the deplatforming of President Trump. Randall Colburn, The A.V. Club’s Internet Culture Editor, joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

The Latest with Greg Ott
The Latest with Greg Ott
Episode 70: A Basket of Deplatformables


Those voices are discussing deplatforming, a term that describes a particular type of political activism as well as a common repair carried out by Elton John’s cobbler. 

As media platforms removed President Trump from a wide variety of networks and professional services over the weekend, many internet users around the world were left to consider the same question: did my computer just reclaim 300 plus pounds of hard drive space?

On January 8, in the tweet no longer heard around the world, Mr Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter in violation of its terms of service, lending new meaning to the phrase “pull to refresh.” 

Twitter followed Facebook’s lead, who had banned the leader of the free world the previous day for riling up raging, poorly-informed white supremacists on the grounds that he was stealing their bit.

And the president’s access to broader internet quickly at large quickly tumbled like a row of dominos, banning the man from virtually every form of social media — Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, and even Pinterest, meaning that if he wants to enviously reference the images that he pinned to his board of adoring crowds at Nuremberg Rallies he aspires to emulate, he’ll need to buy a ticket to the Holocaust museum. 

In a fitting response to a man who’s tested the patience and resolve of a lifetime’s worth of professional septic services throughout the east coast, he’s also been banned from the very plumbing of the internet.

Stripe and PayPal, for instance, will no longer process payments on his campaign’s behalf, rendering it impossible for him to half-heartedly apologize for inciting an insurrection  in the Venmo comments. 

And it’s not just the switch beneath Mr. Trump’s Amber waves of gray that’s been flicked to mute — many of his enablers have lost their memes of communication, who are already reeling from the reduced impact of scratching obscenities into the stalls of truck stop bathrooms due to reduced foot traffic brought on by the pandemic. 

Not only was alt-reich Twitter knockoff Parler removed from the Apple and Google app stores, it was kicked off of cloud hosting services by Amazon, so if you were hoping to connect with other like-minded burnouts to help numb the pain of your aimless, ostracized lifestyle, you’ll have to wait until Kid Rock starts touring again. 

One of the country’s largest talk radio companies has even  threatened to fire its hosts if they say that the election was stolen, hoping to use amplitude modulation to turn on some audience moderation for those who have been tuned into attitude manipulation.

Many have taken issue with the means by which The President has been jiggled into oblivion off of the nation’s home screen, accusing social media and tech companies of censorship, double standards, and First Amendment restrictions to free speech — not only should Mr. Trump be entitled to yell fire in a crowded room, his enablers should be able to spread that message so they can start their own fires in order to prove his point.

Germany’s Angela Merkel has called the social media evictions “problematic,” believing that freedom of opinion should be like public nudity throughout Deutscheland — permitted, with common-sense restrictions.

And I agree that this is a problem that needs to be addressed through legislation — on this program, I’ve talked repeatedly about the need for social media companies to police their own content more effectively than the police that welcomed fascists into the capitol.

At a bare minimum, there should be serious penalties imposed on anyone who posts white supremacist content, or any realtor who invites you to like their page as they struggle to navigate their mid-life decision to either finish grad school or get a divorce.  

But because the Senate’s Gipetto has not allowed legislation to magically transform from a wooden bill into a real law, media companies taking action to restrict access to their platforms is one of the best options available at this given moment.

That’s because, for one, I don’t see any evidence that President’s speech has actually been restricted. 

Just because he’s not allowed to command his troops to occupy the Smithsonian from a tap on the toilet because the blood is taking too long to dry on his presidential portrait doesn’t mean that he’s lost access to the White House press briefing room, network news, cable news, radio stations, newspapers, wire services, business cards, fortune cookies, or the other methods of communication that were, just a few decades ago, considered, you know, methods of communication. 

And two, Facebook and Twitter are private corporations, who are free to do whatever they’d like within the bounds of the law because they’re people, too — which you may not have believed based on the amount of welfare they’re permitted to receive. 

And just as it’s fine for Walmart to hang up a sign that says “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” as if it made any difference, or for a baker to slam the door on a gay couple hoping to buy a wedding cake because it conflicted with his religious belief that “the customer is always straight,”    

It doesn’t matter if they want your business — it’s none of your business. 

That’s also why it’s possible for the owner of the Elmhurst Cigar House, for instance, to warning Illinois residents that Biden voters are no longer allowed in his store, in case if you were hoping to venture out to smell like the back of a cab for a couple of hours. 

Or why on Wednesday, an incensed Internet service provider in Idaho will be begin automatically blocking access to Facebook and Twitter to its customers. They’re allowed to do it — and the only people who should be shocked should be people like me, who didn’t think that Idaho was connected to the internet. 

I don’t think that deplatforming is perfect — just because Alex Jones doesn’t have a YouTube page anymore doesn’t mean that his followers can’t still organize and share bad ideas wherever he’s lurking these days, probably behind an AOL keyword because it’s the one place on the internet nobody would ever bother to look. 

But in a moment where literal terrorists have carried out a coup attempt and are believed to be planning further attacks, it’s hard to get worked up over “cancel” culture when a segment of our culture is trying to cancel culture.