Debates about content moderation, especially on social media, have been a background hum throughout Donald Trump’s presidency. Early criticisms of his tone and comportment on the campaign trail morphed into more tangible worries about what a smartphone-happy commander in chief meant for America (Did he just threaten nuclear war in a tweet?) and reached a fever pitch in 2020 as he used social media to spread misinformation, first about the coronavirus and then about election fraud.
As social media platforms evolved new policies to rein in Trump’s transgressions and those of his most toxic fans, Trump responded by zeroing in on Section 230 — the previously obscure law giving websites such as Facebook and Twitter latitude to moderate their users’ posts — as Big Tech’s original, censorship-promoting sin. His allies in Congress took up the banner at repeated hearings in which they hit Silicon Valley’s top executives with accusations of liberal bias.
But now Trump is banned, at least temporarily, from Facebook and Twitter — and Instagram and Snapchat and Twitch and Shopify and Stripe — for his role in inciting a lethal riot at the U.S. Capitol last week; the Trump-friendly alt-platform Parler has been cut off from basic internet infrastructure; and a variety of pro-Trump message boards and hashtags have shut down or been