There’s one predictable event that occurs pretty much every week in Donald Trump’s otherwise unpredictable presidency: He tweets something outrageous, ignorant, or offensive. Lately, many of these tweets are quickly followed by Trump critics calling on Twitter to ban his account.
Banning Trump from Twitter, even if you despise everything he stands for, would be a mistake of gigantic proportions—not just for free expression on Twitter, but for those working to combat Trump’s agenda.
While calls for Twitter to delete Trump’s account have been circulating for months, the most recent tweets that have led to widespread calls for his removal were aimed at a media figure and a press institution. First there was his disgusting tweet saying MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face lift” when she and Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough visited Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort last year. Then it was Trump’s tweet of a meme of a WWE wrestling match in which he hits a figure with the CNN logo superimposed over his head.
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After the CNN tweet, attorney and Trump impeachment advocate Seth Abramson called on Twitter to ban Trump in a post that garnered about 40,000 retweets. Journalists wrote several articles about the possibility that Twitter could suspend the president. CNN directly asked Twitter whether Trump violated its rules. Twitter users made similar calls for Trump’s banning after the Brzezinski tweet, and a member of Congress even got in on the act.
Please RETWEET THIS if you want Twitter to suspend Trump's account for repeated crimes, civil offenses, and violations of terms of service. pic.twitter.com/qHlwsJ1XaG
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) July 2, 2017
I lead an organization whose mission is to protect journalists, and while I find both of his tweets vile, and the CNN tweet particularly ominous, banning Trump from Twitter will do far more harm than good.
First, the idea that banning Trump from a particular social-media platform will keep him from saying stupid things that anger millions of his detractors and rile up millions more of his supporters is ludicrous. The man has the loudest megaphone in the world. He can switch to any number of other social media services, call press conferences every news organization in the country will attend, and hold campaign rallies that attract live television broadcasts. Banning Trump from Twitter is not going to magically make him lose the presidency, as it seems many hope.
But there’s another, even more important reason why even Trump’s worst enemies should want him on Twitter, where he is free to tweet anything that comes to mind.
Trump’s Twitter account provides an unprecedented look into the deranged, malicious, and conspiratorial worldview driving his presidency. It’s also hampering his presidency in ways many people could not imagine a Twitter account doing even just a few months ago.
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Reports have indicated that Trump’s aides have tried to take away his access to Twitter multiple times, and have strongly recommended that his lawyers approve every one of his tweets. Judging by the steady drumbeat of unhinged remarks—whether he’s personally insulting media personalities who criticize him or making reckless veiled threats against foreign governments—those aides have failed miserably, and Trump continues to, slowly but surely, dig his own political grave with every tweet.
His messages contradict his own administration, alienate his natural allies, throw his own employees under the bus, and derail his agenda as he tries to settle personal scores with media figures, politicians, and celebrities.
Trump’s constant Twitter grudges have likely contributed to his record-low approval rating. Judges have cited his tweets in opinions that have called his travel ban unconstitutional. His conspiratorial tweet about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower derailed the Republican agenda in Congress for weeks as both Houses were forced to respond to his comments and investigate his claims. Trump’s obsession with the investigation into Russian collusion is constantly on display, and the Justice Department’s special counsel is investigating whether that obsession led him to obstruct justice by firing ex-FBI director James Comey.
Trump’s aides desperately want to stage manage him on Twitter, not so that he will be a better person or change his policies, but so that he can more effectively execute the very policies people who want Trump banned from Twitter profess to hate.
For now, Twitter has said it will not pull the plug on Trump. CNN reported that Trump’s CNN wrestling tweet didn’t meet the standards that constitute a violation of Twitter’s ever-expanding rules for what users can and cannot do on the services. But there’s no doubt the calls for Twitter to act will continue. There would be no bigger favor to Trump than having Twitter ban him. I despise everything Trump stands for, but I hope he keeps tweeting.
ICYMI: The important lesson to learn from the Trump Jr/NYTimes debacleTrevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports and defends journalism dedicated to transparency and accountability. He is also a twice-weekly columnist for the Guardian, where he writes about privacy, national security, and the media.