Citizen Donald

This article was published in an abridged version in La Verità on January 22, 2021.

The exclusion of the then outgoing president of the United States of America Donald Trump from the most important social networks has aroused criticism, enthusiasm and bewilderment. The purge, which started on Twitter on January 7 during the Capitol Hill riots, also involved Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, Tik Tok, Snapchat, YouTube, Shopify and, indirectly, even non-aligned platforms like Parler, sunk by Apple's decision , Google and Amazon to no longer provide the technical infrastructure necessary for its operation. The alternatives Telegram, Signal and Gab resisted, and consequently embarked millions of new users, cashing in the accusation of hosting dangerous hordes of the ultra-right .

It is known that the reason given for these blackouts would be the alleged spread of incitements to violence and false or controversial news on the electoral outcome. However, it is true that already in the first video censored by Twitter, Trump invited the rioters of the Capitol to

go home now. We need peace. We must respect the law and order. We must respect the extraordinary people who defend law and order. We don't want to get hurt. It's a very difficult time … it's a fraudulent election, but we can't play these people's game. We need peace. So go home.

And that after twelve hours the @realdonaldtrump account was briefly reactivated and then permanently suspended the following day, January 8, for a reason, explained a company note , of two tweets published in the meantime in which the former president he promised his supporters (in the first) that they would not be "treated without respect or unfairly, in every form and manner" and announced (in the second) that he would not attend the inauguration ceremony of his successor. Twitter censors interpreted these messages as a "glorification of violence" by reading, for example, in the announcement not to participate in the inauguration of the new presidential term the desire not to facilitate an "orderly transition" of powers, if not even a " encouragement addressed to the potential violent "because the event" would be a safe target, not being present ". Or again, in the expression "American patriots" an implied "support for those who have committed violence in the Capitol".

The tenuousness of merit sheds light on the method. Various exponents of journalism, politics and thought have expressed concerns based on the "straight leg" entry of computer companies into the highest institution of the world's greatest power. Because from there, in fact, it's all downhill, anyone can be hit. Just a few days later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey would have confirmed in a leaked online conversation that "the matter will go far beyond a single account and will extend well beyond this day, this week and the next few weeks, and even beyond. installation [of the new president] ". The over seventy thousand accounts suspended for having disseminated or relaunched theses in favor of Trump, the removal of two messages from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which vaccines produced in the West were defined as "unreliable", the restrictions imposed on the YouTube channel (Google) of the newspaper by Claudio Messora , the ban on the following satirical page "The sentences of Osho" from Facebook, to mention only the most discussed cases, could in short be the general rehearsal of a more systematic operation of reshaping in real time of information and opinion public.

Remaining in institutional terms, the problem of the lack of regulation of the means of communication is evident, which by now qualify beyond any doubt as de facto public services, without however being subject to the obligations and supervision reserved to other sectors. The margins of self-regulation enjoyed by telematic oligopolists clash with the dense web of technical, commercial and contractual standards with which the national authorities strive elsewhere to harness the market for essential services. Today this gap is even more dramatic because distance communications, having to respect the sanitary diktats of distancing, are also imposed by law and therefore indispensable, they are no longer a convenience or a pastime. If personal, political and institutional messages spread over the closed software and under the judgmental eyes of these companies, we get educated, official acts are signed, trials are held and parliaments meet , it cannot fail to worry that the public authority will force the population to fuel its penetration more and more without demanding special guarantees. [1]

And it is disheartening that a part of the population accepts this absence of guarantees in the incredible conviction that the private status of the operators gives them the same discretion as the grocery store or the housewife. So why not let the power companies turn off the power of those who waste energy? Or that those telephones take away the connection to those who spread messages contrary to corporate values? Or that those motorways do not raise the bar on those who criticize their management? State organizations are born precisely to balance the advantages of each for the maximum benefit of all. [2] Whoever does not recognize this function can sit in the jungle and hope that the bear, having devoured the wolf today, will spare the chickens that cheer him tomorrow.


Beyond political sympathies, the censorship of the exuberant Donald should sound the alarm for everyone. The first lesson is that large non-institutional political actors exist, act and are anything but hidden. They have a business name and a VAT number, they operate in the open and challenge the world's highest office by brandishing the codes of their "terms of service". Even without discussing the motives and rights of the censors, the episode would be enough in itself to measure the comatose state of political powers in the so-called Western democracies, in which constitutional devices let themselves be beaten over time by online contracts and the spontaneity of "moral imperatives. ".

The second lesson is that it is urgent to finally put a tombstone on the neutrality of a land where more or less everyone, by choice and by necessity, has sunk our roots. We are playing in the house of others according to the rules and inclinations of those who host us, moreover in a historical phase where the legitimate criticism of the most accredited and "correct" messages does not only affect the right to express oneself, but for many also that to health, work, dignity and subsistence. The idea of ​​dematerializing oneself and compressing public, social and professional life by decree in the fiefdoms of a few gentlemen is therefore very bad, really bad. digital. Because what is authorized only in the computer space exists only by virtue of its being admitted into that space. In these conditions, whoever manages the virtual stage is invested with a poietic power which, in granting the permitted reproduction of things, does not discriminate between the true and the false, but between what is and what is not . It does not distribute licenses of truth, but certificates of existence. The representation of the world becomes world and whoever takes part in it becomes the expendable hologram of a fourth power that dominates the others, reshaping knowledge with an ease and efficiency that no government could match.

The latest evolution of the internet, that of a public service forced and occupied by a few operators who intervene in the flow of representation according to their own rules, marks a point of normalization of the new and of overcoming the old. The concentration of telematic markets has transformed a handful of products into agora, publicly and even legally recognized places where billions of people gather. With their faces perpetually glued to the screens of the usual apps, these multitudes replicate in the network the dynamics already typical of the television medium: pervasiveness, domination of large networks, homologation of schedules and "good" messages.

From the anarchist place of its origins to the free dream of its adolescence, the mature web has aligned itself with television and the latter has claimed the role, including political, attracting to itself the attention, concerns and desires of those who want to affect the opinion of the masses by organizing their emotions and speeches. But it doesn't stop there. Like the one imagined by Orwell, network-television resolves the subject-object asymmetry of its ancestor by involving viewers and absorbing their identity to return personalized content and services. And like that, it can't be turned off. But he can turn off those who don't accept his scripts.

  1. With the Digital Services Act (DSA) presented in draft last December 15, the European Commission has once again set out to define the prerogatives and duties of operators and introduce new service obligations, even against arbitrary moderation. In the abstract, the measure goes in the only right direction possible, but it will take years to translate into law and may even introduce new risks . Meanwhile the dominant role of platforms will continue to grow and influence debates, public perception and inevitably also the process of defining the new rules. Worthy of note is the choice of the Polish government to soon adopt its own legislation to counteract censorship of big social media . The fact that the initiative starts from a conservative-led country very misaligned by the progressive Weltanschauung generally embraced by the digital industry (for example on gay rights , or on abortion ) illustrates very well the lately political point of these fights nominally centered on the "Freedom", "truth", "security" and so on.

  2. If it is true that according to our Constitution "private economic initiative is free", it "cannot be carried out in contrast with social utility or in such a way as to damage security, freedom, human dignity" (art. 41 ).

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Il Pedante at the URL on Wed, 27 Jan 2021 13:03:28 PST.