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Experts say Trump’s Twitter ban could affect political polarization

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MADISON (WKOW) -- President Donald Trump is the first prominent U.S. politician to face a lifetime suspension from Twitter. Politics and communication experts say the ban sends a message.

"President Trump has violated Twitter's terms of service, Facebook's, YouTube's, for five years now," UW-Madison journalism professor Mike Wagner said. "They're finally enforcing their terms of service on the president in the way that they enforce it on others, and it's important to show that the president is not above those terms of service from social media platforms."

Twitter said it banned Trump because his tweets posed a risk of inciting violence following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.

"They see President Trump is not only a source of misinformation on Twitter, but also having helped instigate the violence that we saw in the U.S. Capitol," political expert David Canon said. "That's what finally pushed Twitter over the edge and said, 'okay, we just can't do this anymore. This is actually really harming our democracy and undermining our ability to function as a democracy.'"

Even without access to the platform he frequently used to directly address his supporters, journalists and other members of the federal government, Trump will have access to other platforms for communicating.

However, many other social media sites aren't options, either. Facebook and Instagram banned the president at least through the end of his term, and Snapchat banned him indefinitely.

Canon said the platforms are looking to restore some normalcy to political communication.

"Twitter's hope here is that they're going to try to instill more civil discussion into our political debates," he said.

Legality of the ban

Even though Trump's tweets violated Twitter's policy against glorifying violence, not everyone has agreed with the ban.

"This also, I think, will contribute to polarization because Trump supporters are very upset about this," Cannon said.

But despite upsetting some on the right, Wagner said the ban doesn't violate the Constitution or unfairly limit political discourse.

"This isn't a First Amendment issue," he said. "Private companies can monitor speech all the livelong day. ... Every politician and every other human being who signs up for Twitter knows what the rules are, or at least has the opportunity to read them when they sign up, and when they violate them, they shouldn't be surprised when there are consequences for that."

Because every user agrees to the same terms of service, he said it's critical for tech companies to enforce them.

"It's important that social media platforms enforce their terms of service and kick people off who are trying to foment violence, especially violence at the very seat of government," he said.

Effect on future political discourse

Wagner said he thinks Trump's ban is a warning for other politicians.

"Hopefully it will serve to keep other lawmakers from violating the terms of service and engaging in the kinds of behavior that led to President Trump's removed from Twitter," he said.

But he said that's not a certain outcome.

"Either politicians who want to violate Twitter's terms of service and encourage violence and things like that will just move to Parler or some other social media platform that doesn't have as strict of terms of service about the fomentation of violence, or we’ll see folks rein in their language and behave more responsibly," he said.

If more lawmakers and their supporters choose to leave mainstream social media platforms for more fringe sites, Canon said that will lead to further segmentation of information.

"If we have these alternative realities that people are living in, how can we have anything like a regular civil political debate on the issues of the day?" he asked. "That's a huge problem that the nobody has the answer to right now."

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Caroline Dade

Weekend Evening Anchor/Reporter, 27 News

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