By Rebecca Klar
Twitter’s ban on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) personal account is fueling Republican attacks against “Big Tech” and the nation’s dominant social media platforms.
Former President Trump, who was banned himself from Twitter a year ago, and several of Greene’s GOP House colleagues have blasted the company for removing the congresswoman’s personal account over violating COVID-19 misinformation policies.
In some ways it is unsurprising that Twitter’s ban on Greene provoked a loud response from the GOP.
A number of Republicans, including Greene, have seen the fight against social media companies as a galvanizing issue for their constituents since Trump was kicked off Twitter in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
In addition, the ban on Greene was seen as a significant step. Greene’s ban sets a “more far-reaching precedent” than the one imposed on Trump last year since he was already on his way out of office at the time, said Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.
“The fact that Twitter cut her off, despite being an elected official, is a substantial change in the broad latitude that elected officials have had in the past,” West added.
Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, said he agreed that Greene’s ban sets a more significant precedent.
“This is obviously not a decision that was made lightly,” he said. Greene’s account had been suspended four times before, and in line with Twitter’s COVID-19 misinformation policy her fifth strike triggered a permanent ban.
Trump ripped Twitter for the decision in a statement Monday night, saying the company was “a disgrace to democracy.”
“They shouldn’t be allowed to do business in this Country,” Trump said. “Marjorie Taylor Greene has a huge constituency of honest, patriotic, hard-working people. They don’t deserve what’s happened to them on places like low-life Twitter and Facebook.”
He urged his supporters to “drop off” both Twitter and Facebook — which suspended Greene’s account for 24 hours but did not permanently ban her. Trump himself is suspended from Facebook until at least Jan. 7, 2023.
Other congressional Republicans also slammed Twitter after Greene’s ban. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) accused the company of muzzling “any speech that does not fit big Tech’s orthodoxy” but did not name Greene.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called it “Woketopia” “Where information is controlled by the few,” he wrote. YouTube, although not in the spotlight based on Greene’s posts, faced a similar attack Monday from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who said he would no longer be using the platform as part of his “exodus from Big Tech.”
He accused YouTube of censoring his content by suspending him multiple times last year over violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy.
“Twitter brought us what will be a major story-line of 2022 quite early, which is the continuing debate and allegations especially from the far right of censorship by these tech platforms,” Brooking said. Republicans have long been criticizing mainstream social media platforms, largely Twitter and Facebook, over content moderation decisions. They have been accusing platforms of censoring content with an anti-conservative bias, despite such claims being disproven by researchers and conservative content gaining widespread traction on the sites.
The onslaught of criticism after Greene’s ban indicates the attacks are likely to keep coming as the GOP looks to win back the House and Senate in the November midterm elections.
“Midterms are not traditionally big on policy differences. In the case of 2022, I think even before this, content moderation policy and ‘Big Tech censorship’ was going to be a major issue of discussion. And now it inevitably will be,” Brooking said.
West said the incident adds momentum to efforts to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a controversial proposal that provides a legal liability shield for tech platforms over content posted by third parties.
McCarthy in his statement said “Big Tech platforms should not be allowed to use the shield of Section 230, which was designed to foster an open internet, to censor first amendment protected free speech.”
Democrats have also pushed for Section 230 reform, albeit for opposite reasons. Democrats say the platforms have not taken enough action to mitigate hate speech and misinformation online.
“But they’re both coming to the conclusion, there needs to be regulation,” West said.
Despite the ban, Twitter also hasn’t entirely cut off any elected official from its platform. Greene’s official congressional account is still active, and Trump’s official presidential account remained active under his administration before President Biden took over later that month.
But the two accounts serve vastly different purposes for the politicians, said Jennifer Grygiel, an associate professor of
communications at Syracuse University.
Greene, like Trump, splits herself to talk to two audiences — on her personal account Greene is “much more hyperbolic” and controversial, Grygiel said.
“Essentially the right leaning rhetoric that we’ve come to know — [she] can put that out on the personal account. But they have a fall back, they have their representative account, which is much harder for he corporations to shut down because there’s a fine line that corporations need to walk with the government,” Grygiel said.
Brooking said Greene is part of a “very small caucus” of Republicans in Congress who are following the “Trump model” and trying to base their political influence “almost exclusively on pushing the envelope on social media platforms.”
Greene used her position as an elected official to “shield her from the sort of enforcement actions that Twitter might take against a normal account” posting the same content, he said.
Based on Greene’s particular style on Twitter, Brooking said he would “hesitate to say that this opens the floodgates to Twitter doing this to other figures.”
“Being banned from Twitter makes it harder for you to be a celebrity, but it doesn’t make you a less effective legislator,” Brooking said.
By Rebecca Klar