It’s a shame they didn’t name one of the early social media entities Pandora, after the mythological woman who opened the box that released all kinds of trouble on humanity, a shame that the trademark was left for a music and podcast app later.
The Facebooks and Twitters of this world are prime examples of a technology run amok. With the intention of providing a voice to every individual, it quickly became evident that not every individual should have that voice, that our worst instincts will inevitably spread and pollute the planet.
Look no further than Donald Trump, who turned this instrument into a cyber-demagoguery platform and stepped from it all the way to the highest office in the land. He clearly had no concept of how he would use his near omnipotence, other than for feeding his most unhinged narcissism.
But who decides who has access? If the institutional filters for ideas, like the media, have unfairly represented the rich and mighty’s interests and infuriated everyone else, who’s to say that a shameless, ignorant demagogue can’t inspire the “regular folks” with simplistic and hateful promises using these internet soapboxes, particularly if this scaffolding is run by amoral technocrats?
Only after an entire Trump presidential term — as these profiteers lurched from one bad idea to another — have they settled on their latest strategy to police misinformation to try to control the deranged president.
They simply pulled the plug on him ... silenced his voice in the final few days of his lying public presence. Twitter and Facebook chose to shut him down. In the case of unrestrained right wing Parler, Apple, Google and Amazon decreed that such mini sites would not be allowed to peddle their incitement. They’d simply be removed.
Suddenly, the president’s bully pulpit had no bullhorn. His millions of supporters could only claim censorship. Of course it was censorship, opening another Pandora’s box. In their case, they were scrambling to come up with another high-tech way to construct a new misinformation highway.
Of course, their militants have another alternative: continued violence. In the few days remaining before Joe Biden’s inauguration, they can regroup and launch their evil, deadly attacks now that they have a martyr to rally around: Donald Trump. But they and he have momentarily lost the element of surprise, which compromises the ability to coordinate their treason. But there is nothing magical about inauguration day, particularly since it’s less likely that security forces will be as woefully unprepared as they were for the Capitol siege.
No. They can choose to wait and surreptitiously arrange an operation another day. And it’s likely these domestic terrorists will, with Trump as a grievance icon.
Meanwhile, in spite of the argument that this lunatic commander in chief, with his constitutional potential to annihilate everything, needs to be removed immediately, an attempt to shut him down before Biden takes over is probably not workable. Instead, neutralize him somehow, and wait until he’s a private citizen, unprotected from prosecution. If he pardons himself, fight it out in the courts.
The sad fact is that whichever legal strategy is chosen for recourse, it will keep him at the top of the news, which is what he craves. Perhaps some bargain with him is possible, where he agrees to make no chief executive decisions for the few days remaining, literally White House arrest.
He would also have to accept that he’ll never run for office again and be muzzled. If he violates the artfully drawn deal, the legal system can lower the boom. It amounts to an exile in Mar-a-Lago, with visits from Rudy Giuliani so they can talk about the good old days of destroying the country. Maybe there could be occasional calls from his comrade Vladimir Putin.
That way Biden and his successors can clean up the rubble and repair the country — in spite of the social media.
Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN; opinions expressed are his own.