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Donald Trump’s descent into political madness continues at an exponential rate; at this point, the mainstream media is running out of synonyms for “dangerously unhinged.” And yet, despite the barrage of negative press and ongoing appearance of scandal, Donald Trump somehow manages to keep his head above water when it comes to getting his message to his base.

That damned Twitter account.

In 140 characters, Donald Trump can undermine the media in a way never before seen in modern American politics. Trump is his own Fourth Estate, a persona mostly built, ironically enough, on a generation of voters distrustful of government after Watergate.

It’s a perfect storm; a president with a brand based on a lack of political correctness coinciding with a means of communication by which he can tell the world what he thinks in real time. And one thing we all know about Donald Trump is his willingness to let everyone know what he’s thinking at any given moment; consequences be damned.

But in the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey in the midst of constant speculation about Russian interference in the 2016 Election, the stakes continue to rise on a daily basis. As rumors of indictments and talks of impeachment reach a fever pitch, we need to ask ourselves a crucial question.

Can the Leader of the Free World get banned from Twitter?

On the one hand, it sounds ridiculous. Donald Trump is the President of the United States- of course, he would never get banned by Twitter. At the same time, Trump is theoretically subject to the same Terms of Service as any other Twitter user around the world.

A quick look at Twitter’s Terms of Service raises some interesting questions, particularly the “Twitter Rules” section:

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Abusive Behavior

We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. To ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.

Any accounts and related accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be temporarily locked and/or subject to permanent suspension.

Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.

Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behavior include:
if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats; if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.

 

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Technically, Trump has probably flirted with the line on some of those rules, but given the position of his targets to respond and defend themselves (Hillary Clinton, Rosie O’Donnell and the New York Times all come to mind), it seems highly unlikely to expect Twitter to intervene. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently said as much regarding Trump, claiming shutting down his account wouldn’t be “good for anyone.”

“I believe it’s really important to hear directly from our leadership,” Dorsey said. “And I believe it’s really important to hold them accountable. And I believe it’s really important to have these conversations out in the open, rather than have them behind closed doors. So if we’re all to suddenly take these platforms away, where does it go? What happens? It goes in the dark.”

What Dorsey didn’t mention was the undeniable fact that Donald Trump is good for Twitter’s business, drawing more and more users to the platform to see what the President says next. So let’s assume for the time-being that Trump is safe from being shut down for bullying behavior or other speech which would likely be protected under the First Amendment.

Just yesterday, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams apologized in an interview with the New York Times for facilitating Trump’s brand of populist falsehoods- sort of. Williams said:

“It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Well, as long as you’re sorry I guess we’re all good, right Evan? If only you had a way to get in touch with the people who run Twitter and try and put the rancid toothpaste back in the tube, right? Based on his response, it’s hard not to picture Evan Williams rolling around in a vault of money Scrooge McDuck-style with “#sorrynotsorry” painted on the walls while millions of people suffer from the consequences of his company’s potential complicity in the start of World War III.

So if the people running Twitter either can’t or won’t do anything to stop him, does that make Trump untouchable? Not necessarily, but we have to venture into some scenarios which will almost certainly not make you feel any better about the situation. Let’s take at look at “The Twitter Rules”:

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Unlawful use: You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

 

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Hmmm… This one is a bit trickier. What if Donald Trump is impeached and convicted by Congress? What if the FBI investigation of Russian interference blows wide open, as many people believe it’s about to? It is nearly impossible to conceive a scenario where the President’s tweets are not highly relevant as evidence.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that Donald Trump is violating the Presidential Records Act by deleting Tweets without archiving them, but let’s move past the technical violations for now. What if Trump is impeached and convicted by Congress? What if the FBI investigation of Russian interference blows wide open, as many people believe it’s about to? It is nearly impossible to conceive a scenario where the President’s tweets are not highly relevant as evidence.

So who gets to decide when conduct is unlawful? Presumably, Twitter does, which raises a whole other set of problems. Twitter is a publicly traded company, which means it answers to its shareholders above all else.

No big deal, right?

Sure, nothing to worry about as long as you don’t do a ten-second Google search on who actually owns Twitter.

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Oh, F*ck me.


To summarize, the American people are getting their political information from a president whose administration may be compromised by a foreign power via a platform owned by people whose interests aren’t aligned with ours. Both the message and the messenger are completely out of control, and the stakes are as high as the stakes get.

Does anyone else see a problem here?

If Donald Trump is actively obstructing justice in the Comey affair, which is looking less hypothetical and more likely by the minute, should he be allowed to continue to spread misinformation to the American people for the sole purpose of self-preservation? Is there a tipping point where it’s all just too much, or will Twitter sit back and absolve themselves of any and all responsibility for what happens next?

If the only thing keeping Trump’s Twitter account active is his status as President of the United States coupled with his undeniable ability to drive traffic in Twitter’s direction, we are just rewarding bad behavior. And if this whole thing goes where many people suspect it will, the mess will only get messier. Is it really that hard to imagine Donald Trump live-tweeting his own impeachment proceedings?

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Author

A passionate communicator, advocate, and opinion maker with executive-level experience in law, public policy, and government. (Don't let the boyish good looks fool you.)