Twitter and Facebook blocked Donald Trump’s posts and suspended his account. There is no doubt that the political career of the still-president of the United States is undemocratic.
However, public institutions, and not corporations, should be the ones ensuring the preservation of democracy. In that sense, as pleasant and fair as it may seem to censor Donald Trump amid an instigation to a coup d’état, it is a dangerous precedent.
It sounds obvious, but it is not superfluous to repeat it: Twitter and Facebook are political actors. There are machines behind the algorithms’ opacity and the publication and segmentation logic, but there are also people with economic and political interests.
The weight of these multinationals became exposed to everyone: that who is, supposedly, the most powerful person on the planet is without a way to express himself, as decided by the platform owners. The multinationals censure the president of the wealthiest country in the world.
To a greater or lesser extent, the traditional mass media are considered actors with their own interests. In Argentina, this has been at the center of public debate for more than a decade. However, none of the traditional media companies imagined, not even in their happiest dreams, to have the power to filter and build part of the world. Not even those with a power similar to that of Google and Facebook, which are among the five most capitalized globally and have unusual representation strength.
In this respect, the most used digital platforms are the same on most of the planet, although politics are still processed nationally. No one chooses who are the owners of these networks, which have become a central space for public debate, relations between people, and providing information. But they are, at the same time, private companies seeking to maximize their economic return.
Therefore, it is essential not to decontextualize the timing and political opportunity chosen to censure Trump. They did so when he was already out. On the same day, the legislative commissions that refer to the regulation of large digital corporations were defined as chaired by Democrats.
This will not be the first or last time in the United States’ history that decisions affecting the world will be made with domestic politics in mind. If Facebook and Twitter will, from now on, be more protective of what is said or reprehensible, that would have consequences for democracy.
On which side would they have stood in November 2019 on Bolivia? Who would they have censored, the overthrown President Evo Morales or the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro? Where would the democratic palate of the owners of Silicon Valley be pointing?
This post was originally published on Radio Free.