Free Speech vs. Hate Speech on Social Media
Graphic by Angela Zheng
On November 3rd, President Trump referred to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” on his Twitter. On November 27th, Trump repeated this slur toward Warren at an in-person event honoring Native Americans. Twitter users have long been calling for his account to be banned, and many people have recently cited this comment as racist. This has once again opened the discussion on whether Donald Trump violates Twitter’s policies. I believe that many of his tweets are undoubtedly hate speech, and that Twitter is failing by protecting Trump under the guise of free speech.
Trump has a long history of hateful tweets, such as his threatening of nuclear war against North Korea and his attack on journalism through a GIF of CNN getting body slammed. His tweets are powerful, and thus can affect how people think and even act.
Twitter’s hateful conduct policy states:
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.
In order to get a local point of view, I asked students on the Bruin Walk about how they feel about Trump’s comments and whether they think Donald Trump violates this policy. More importantly, should Twitter take the action and suspend his account?
She also points out that banning him won’t completely silence his voice: “I mean, he has the entire press following his every word, so he would get these messages out no matter what.”
Dairinn Bowers, a 2nd year undeclared major, says people are being too sensitive: “I feel like nowadays when anyone ever says anything it’s like, ‘Oh did that have some racial something or some sexuality something in it?’ I think people just need to chill out because for the most part people aren’t trying to attack anyone.” In this specific case, I have to disagree. By using the racial slur “Pocahontas,” I think it is pretty obvious that Donald Trump directly and intentionally attacked Elizabeth Warren on the basis of her race.
Nonetheless, Bowers does admit that Trump has profound influence, “He needs to be reserved a little bit more because he is a figurehead. He’s the president of the U.S., so on a global scale, he sort of represents all of us.”
If the president is using and condoning racial slurs on a public social media account, his influence can lead to more hate crimes against the people he has verbally attacked. Yes, Donald Trump could just move to another site, but if Twitter took action to at least restrict his language, it could set an important precedent that racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., won’t be tolerated. As far as what you can do, reporting Donald Trump’s tweets can help to show Twitter what you find to be potentially dangerous. However, it seems clear to me that Twitter does not care.