Opinion » Letter From The Editor

The Twitter End

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It's so nice when we finally get a slow news week.

I mean, except for the whole "Let's instigate a mob attack on the nation's Capitol to go after Congress members and senators and get five people killed and build a gallows so we can hang Vice President Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi" thing. Which was almost a week ago. So.

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I want to talk about social media. It's hard to imagine the Trump presidency playing out as it did (or even happening) without Twitter. No one has ever used a social medium more effectively than Donald Trump. Twitter was his hammer and everything was a nail. He utilized it to communicate directly with his base, to tap into and spur their anger, their frustrations, and the racism that still infects so many of them. Via his tweets, Trump demonized Muslims, Mexicans, and Blacks. He tweeted warnings of "caravans." He tweeted no-fly bans. He tweeted outsized fears of immigrant gangs. He tweet-fired cabinet members. He amplified white supremacists and QAnon conspiracists by retweeting them. He tweeted about his wall, about being cheated out of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Trump also used Twitter for "diplomacy," tweeting derisively about "Little Rocket Man" and leaders of Canada, France, Iran, and Germany. He tweeted threats of war. And Trump used Twitter to offer helpful criticism about television shows and networks; from SNL to OANN to Fox to CBS to CNN, Trump had an opinion to tweet. And, of course, Trump used Twitter to misinform Americans about COVID, over and over again. You name it, Trump tweeted about it.

Now it's finished. Twitter has muted Trump, banning him from the platform that he could reasonably argue he helped build into what it is today. Many of Trump's supporters are calling Twitter's decision an assault on free speech. It is not. A private company has the right to refuse service. Twitter's move is more like a bar kicking out a drunk who's chasing off other customers. Or a bakery refusing to create a cake for a gay wedding, if you prefer.

Many Trump supporters got another shock when the right-wing social media platform Parler was effectively disabled by Google, Apple, and Amazon. And the shocks may keep coming. It was revealed on Monday that Parler's entire trove of user data has been hacked and stored, to what end we still don't know.

Social media works by collecting our data and selling it, and they've got a lot of it on all of us. So do cell phone companies, which came as a shock to many of the "patriots" who ransacked the Capitol last week. Turns out the building has a massive cell phone infrastructure, one that can (and will) be used to determine what cell phones were in and around the area, and who they were communicating with. Using that data, law enforcement officers pulled many rioters off their return flights last week by tracking their cell phones, much to the Trumpers' shock and dismay. (The hashtag #noflylist on Twitter and Facebook has compiled a number of videos of these folks being hustled off planes and out of airports, in case you're needing a quick dollop of schadenfreude.)

It's still astonishing to me that so many people apparently thought they could break into a federal building, destroy public and personal property, attack the police, take selfies of it all, and then just hop on a plane and head back home with no consequences. Sorry, folks, if you had your cell phone with you in the Capitol last week ... well, oops. And according to what limited geographic cell phone data has been released thus far, quite a number of folks in Shelby and Crittendon Counties should be expecting a call from law enforcement soon.

Meanwhile, members of Congress were given a briefing Monday about numerous plots and demonstrations still being planned for Washington, D.C., in coming days. The FBI is also warning of demonstrations of one kind or another for state capitals around the country. Whether the takedown of Parler and the arrests of what will soon be hundreds of Capitol terrorists will impact these nefarious plans is anyone's guess.

In any event, with another impeachment in the works and the Biden inauguration still to come, the week ahead looks to be another challenging one for all of us living in these turbulent and not-so-United States. Buckle in. Stay safe. We'll get through this. The current wave of madness is surely cresting.

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