It was a perfect match, and Mr. Trump soon began honing the freewheeling, stream-of-consciousness style that would become his signature. For years, he used the platform to weigh in on everything from wind turbines (ugly) to President Barack Obamaâs birth certificate (fake) to Jon Stewartâs comedy (overrated). Mr. Trumpâs filter-free musings turned out to be engagement gold for Twitter, which recommended his tweets to millions of new users through its algorithms.
Social media became an even more powerful asset for Mr. Trump when he turned to politics. And after he got elected president, thanks in large part to his dominance on Twitter and Facebook, he used his accounts in ways no world leader ever had: to announce major policies, bully foreign governments, whip up votes in Congress, hire and fire senior officials, and interact with a motley crew of racists and cranks.
In time, we learned that the version of President Trump we saw on our feeds was, in many ways, more real than the flesh-and-blood human who occupied the Oval Office. People who wanted to know what Mr. Trump actually thought about kneeling N.F.L. players or Speaker Nancy Pelosi didnât watch him read a prepared speech or hold a news conference. They looked to @realDonaldTrump, the most honest representation of who he was.
The most predictable result of Mr. Trumpâs dismissal from Twitter â and, most likely, a similar ban heâll face from Facebook after Inauguration Day â is that it will become a rallying cry for conservatives who see themselves as victims of Silicon Valley censorship.
âWe are living Orwellâs 1984,â the presidentâs son, Donald Trump Jr., fumed on his (still operational, 6.5 million-follower) Twitter account. âFree-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech.â
No serious thinker believes that Twitter and Facebook, as private companies, are obligated to give any user a platform, just as no one doubts that a restaurant owner can boot an unruly diner for causing a scene. But there are legitimate questions about whether a small handful of unelected tech executives, accountable only to their boards and shareholders (and, in Mr. Zuckerbergâs case, to neither) should wield such enormous power. These actions also raise longer-term questions, such as whether the business models of social media companies are fundamentally compatible with a healthy democracy, or whether a generation of Twitter-addicted politicians can ever be untaught the lesson that racking up retweets is a surer path to power than governing responsibly.
Mr. Trumpâs ban will have tangible effects on the spread of disinformation about the 2020 election, much of which originated on his accounts. It will also probably accelerate the splintering of the American internet along partisan lines, a process that was already underway, and intensify calls on the right for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social media companies from legal liability for their usersâ posts.