On 7 December 2015, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addressed a crowd of supporters at the U.S.S. Yorktown in South Carolina. During that appearance, Trump invoked a vague approach to campaign issues as he proposed restricting access for some individuals to the internet:
We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way … Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people.
Video of Trump’s full remarks, below:
Predictably, Trump’s assertion prompted a range of reactions on social media and in the news. Technology blog Gizmodo blasted the ambiguity of the remarks in an article titled “Trump’s Plan to Fight ISIS Online Is So Fucking Vacant I Can Barely Blog About It” (filed to the category “ireugjieogifdosjbnfdkslgjdslafjdsioalhfgdf…”) centering on the impossibility of such a plan:
Pumpkin-flavored arsenic marshmallow Donald Trump gave a speech at the Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the USS Yorktown in South Carolina tonight. After a day of rambling about banning Muslims, Trump offered some hazy suggestions for fighting ISIS’s growing influence online.
Trump then suggested “closing the internet in some way.” He did not specify how.
The New York Times‘ “Bits” blog addressed the comments in an 8 December 2015 post titled “Why Donald Trump’s Call to ‘Close Up’ the Internet Is Science Fiction,” characterizing his statement as nebulous and technologically impossible in every conceivable way:
It is not clear what Donald Trump actually meant on Monday when he conjured up the idea of getting Bill Gates to help “close up” the Internet.
Mr. Trump hasn’t elaborated yet, and Mr. Gates, who stepped down as Microsoft’s chairman last year, is spending most of his days at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
However, since he remains a technology adviser to the company’s current chief executive, Satya Nadella, you could imagine Mr. Gates returning to Redmond, Wash., where Microsoft is based, and the two of them going down into the basement at Microsoft HQ and pulling the plug.
The problem is that the Internet’s backbone doesn’t run through Redmond, and it never did.
Trump’s comments caused a degree of confusion sufficient enough to prompt readers to ask whether the candidate made them at all, or if the remarks were the work of a satire news site. While it’s true that Trump made the comments attributed to him at a 7 December 2015 rally, the specifics of his proposed internet counterterrorism initiative remained so unclear that gleaning a specific policy course of action from them was, by all interpretations, completely impossible.
The clearest takeaway was that Trump referenced “radicalized” individuals in his remarks, and didn’t suggest restricting the broader internet. The inherent implausibility of that plan (and its total lack of relevance to any “free speech” issue) aside, Trump didn’t appear to suggest a sweeping internet ban. Bill Gates has yet to comment on Trump’s proposal.