The rat-tat-tat of takedowns was a striking display of the tech industry’s power to shape the fate of even the president of the United States. And it comes after years of efforts by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington to cut Silicon Valley down to size — including lawsuits that Trump’s antitrust enforcers have filed in recent months against Facebook and Google, plus efforts on both the right and left to challenge Section 230, the provision in communications law that limits online platforms’ liability for what users post to them.
Those lawsuits, legislative efforts and a potential antitrust investigation of Apple’s App Store echo the complaint that, remarkably, Trump supporters, civil libertarians and some prominent Democrats are airing this weekend: No handful of companies should have this much unilateral authority.
“[I]t should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier,” American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said in a statement.
Of course, many on the left cheered Twitter’s takedown of Trump. Rashad Robinson, president of the advocacy group Color of Change — which has long argued that Trump and his allies have used social media to stoke racism in the United States — called the move in a statement overdue but “monumental progress.” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called himself “relieved,” and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted that “social media companies have allowed this vile content to fester for too long, and need to do much more.”
Democrats’ anger at the tech industry remains real, however — and their looming full control over Congress and the executive branch will give them the opportunity to try to tame Silicon Valley.