Twitter, Trump and the Taliban

 
Posted8/29/2021 1:00 AM

By Susan Estrich

If there is one iconic photograph that defines World War II, it is the picture of six marines planting the United States flag atop Mount Suribachi in the last stages of the fighting.

 

The Battle of Iwo Jima, a Japanese island, lasted 36 days. Some 70,000 U.S. Marines participated in that battle; 7,000 of them were killed, in the Marines' bloodiest battle in history, and 20,000 more were wounded. The Japanese lost all but 216 of the 18,000 men who took part in the fighting.

The picture was taken by an Associated Press photographer on Feb. 23, 1945, and appeared in newspapers around the world. The sculpture is near the gate to Arlington National Cemetery, where millions have seen it.

Of the six Marines in the picture, three were killed in the action.

Check out Twitter, and you will find a similar picture posed and posted by the Taliban, complete with Taliban soldiers dressed in Marine uniforms raising the Taliban flags. The uniforms were among the millions of dollars' worth of supplies that we are leaving behind in the nightmare evacuation.

They are making fun of our heroes, showing contempt for what we hold dear. It is horribly offensive. Which is no reason it should be banned from Twitter. But how do you give the Taliban a mouthpiece and deny one to a former president of the United States -- lest he make a political comeback and win a (small "d") democratic election?

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I can understand the decision to bar former President Donald Trump in the period between Jan. 6, when he encouraged his supporters to go to the Capitol and overturn the election, and Jan. 20, when the winner of the election became president.

But since then?

The First Amendment would clearly be violated if it were the state that was banning a former president -- political speech is the most protected -- but giving a mouthpiece to terrorists and murderers. Time, place and manner regulations of speech may be allowed when they are applied equally to all comers.

But restrictions based on the content of speech are almost always unconstitutional. The rare exceptions are obscenity -- which no one can really define, but if they could, it could be prohibited -- and speech that presents a clear and present danger of imminent bodily harm.

Twitter and Facebook have been doing whatever they want because the First Amendment restricts "state" action. Our Founding Fathers and mothers had faced hardships at home and in the colonies because of the tyranny and taxes of the all-powerful Crown. And at least some of them feared that the new federal government would be more of the same. That was the subject of the Federalist Papers. The Bill of Rights was the answer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This might be the first column I have ever written that Trump would even half agree with -- the half that says he should have a voice.

When private institutions engage in "public functions," the Bill of Rights applies to them.

The government does not control the microphones anymore. Jack Dorsey (Mr. Twitter) and Mark Zuckerberg (Mr. Facebook) do.

Who elected them?

They control more communications than the Federal Communications Commission. It is a testament to their power that they have been so successful in blocking Trump from finding his audience.

Trump brought music back into my life. I didn't listen to the news. I turned off the radio when he did a sound bite. I didn't tweet. I could live the rest of my life without listening to Trump, let alone checking his tweets.

President Joe Biden received 81 million votes; Trump received 74 million votes. All told, 158 million people voted, which is 48 million fewer than Dorsey's constituents.

So, Mr. Dorsey, with a daily audience of 206 million, has claimed the right to decide what over 200 million people get to hear. Our founders could not imagine any private institutions having that much power.

Censorship is a public function. And if you are going to censor anyone, censor the Taliban, who do present a clear and present danger to the Americans and Afghans at the airport, and to innocent people in their own country. And ours.

© 2021, Creators

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