When Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter in the UK, described the company as the ‘free speech wing of the free speech party’ he was expressing an ideal that would soon collapse.
This was in 2012, long before the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency was anything other than a flippant punchline in The Simpsons.
Six months after the 2016 election, Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams expressed his regret for the part they played in securing Trump’s victory. The implication – that the decisions of the general public are shaped by bad actors who prey on their malleability, and it is the responsibility of technocrats to do something about it – is one that has since become depressingly familiar.
Trump’s new executive order, which seeks to remove legal protections from social media companies to encourage political neutrality, has been a long time coming.