Timothy Klausutis, an innocent American who was despicably victimized on social media this month by Donald Trump, has written an extraordinary letter to the CEO of Twitter.
This excerpt will bring you up to speed:
“Nearly 19 years ago, my wife, who had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. She was found dead the next morning … President Trump on Tuesday (May 12) tweeted to his 80 million followers, alluding to the repeatedly debunked falsehood that my wife was murdered by her boss, former U.S. Rep Joseph Scarborough… the president of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him – the memory of my dead wife – and perverted it for perceived political gain.”
Trump, as part of his ongoing war against the MSNBC host, has baselessly tweeted twice that Scarborough is a criminal on the loose. Yes, it’s just another day at the office for the pandemic president, dragging an innocent family through the mud is his way of making America great again.
This dilemma isn’t new – two years ago, there was a hue and cry over his all-caps tweet threatening Iran with nuclear annihilation (“CONSEQUENCES THE LIKE OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE”). Last fall, Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump should be thrown off Twitter for trying to intimidate witnesses in the impeachment probe.
But soiling an innocent dead woman’s memory, and reigniting her family’s grief, would seem to (finally) be a bridge too far.
Timothy Klausitus, in his letter to Twitter boss Jack Dorsey, merely requested that Trump’s tweets about his family be deleted. He didn’t demand that Twitter kick Trump off the platform – but other critics certainly have. Eric Boehlert, a media and political commentator, wrote the other day: “Trump should be banned. Period. Dumping Trump from Twitter would rob Trump of a critical communications platform. It would also go a long way to restoring some dignity to our public dialogue.”
That seems (at first glance) like a great feel-good solution. Twitter, in its broad terms of service, threatens to cancel the accounts of anyone who threatens other people. Klausitus points out, in his letter to Dorsey, that “an ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform” for concocting a murder charge and traumatizing an innocent family.
But Twitter indulges Trump’s serial smears and lies – because, according to the terms of service, presidents are basically allowed to say whatever they want. Here’s the policy: “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information people should be able to see.” A leader’s tweets, by definition, have a “clear public interest value.”
Hang on…Does lying about Lori Klausitus’ death, and causing her husband renewed pain and suffering, have “public interest value”? Does spreading a conspiracy theory about Scarborough qualify as “important information”? Perhaps that buttresses the case for throwing Trump off Twitter. This is not a freedom of speech issue, Boehlert says, because Twitter is a privately held, and “private companies are well within their rights to deny service to customers who chronically fail to follow the rules of conduct.”
I wish I could agree. But, philosophically, I tend to believe that the more information we have as citizens, the better off we are – even if the guy in charge happens to be the most subhuman specimen to ever hold office.
My other concern about an outright ban is purely pragmatic. If Dorsey were to boot Trump from the platform, the aggrieved demagogue would exploit it to the max – and confirm the MAGA cult’s worst paranoia about a Big Tech censorship conspiracy. Trump would merely amp the issue on other social media platforms and use it to gin up his base for the November election.
Perhaps the best solution, admittedly unsatisfying, is for Twitter to establish standards by which it can police the most detestable Trump tweets. Granted, the company would require an army of fact-checkers, but surely, at minimum, there must be a way to flag the tweets that victimize innocent bystanders like the Klausitus family.
As Timothy said in his letter to Dorsey, “I would also ask that you consider Lori’s niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future. They have never met their Aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to ‘learn’ about her this way. My wife deserves better.”
As do we.
Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].