Trump escalates war on Twitter, social media protections

Joanna Estrada
May 29, 2020

Trump plans to sign an executive order targeting social media platforms on Thursday.

The president uses Twitter frequently to promote policies and share his views, with more than 80 million users following him on the platform. "The odds of any of that are pretty slim, and I would say that this is largely about saying, 'I have the power to make your life miserable whether or not the law is on my side, so you should maybe be nice to me'".

This is a noticeable far cry from Facebook's move of leaving Trump's post on their platform unmarked, despite Facebook's numerous claims to 'Protect the 2020 US Elections' as per a blog post in October 2019.

And the day before, he claimed that "Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives [sic] voices".

Trump's executive order claims that interventions like Twitter's fact check label amount to censorship and show that Twitter is acting as a publisher and not a platform.

Twitter posted a blue exclamation mark under a tweet by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, with a comment urging readers to check the facts about COVID-19.

Before the Communications Decency Act was put into place, United States communications companies had to make a choice on whether to let all content pass without moderation, or to intervene but understand that they took on legal liability for content they let pass, the Guardian reports.

Others like Jack Balkin, a Yale University constitutional law professor said "The president is trying to frighten, coerce, scare, cajole social media companies to leave him alone and not do what Twitter has just done to him".

The order directs the Federal Communications Commission to start a rule-making process to clarify when social media companies should keep protections under the law.

Trump was joined during the signing by Attorney General William Barr, who has previously expressed interest in stripping away or limiting the same legal protections for tech companies. They are editorial decisions.

What effect will the order have?

. "Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms", Twitter claimed.

Independent government agencies will have to review federal law, promulgate new regulations, vote on them and then - in all likelihood - defend them in court. By the time it's all over, the November presidential election could have come and gone.

Trump's order seeks to chip away at that protection by offering a new interpretation of the law.

The real objective of the president's order, however, may be symbolic.

The president relies on Twitter to get his message out without filtering from the mainstream media.

How have the social networks responded?

"Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230", Ruane said. "More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions". "And I think we can say that about others also, whether you're looking at Google, whether you're looking at Facebook, perhaps others".

But while Trump and his allies believe that Section 230 is stifling conservative speech, it's actually enabling free speech by removing the constant threat of lawsuits.

While the executive order doesn't really change anything, Mackey suggested, policies or actions taken subsequently by the administration to realize the goals articulated in the order may cause problems.

What sparked the latest row?

Neither is the platform singling Trump out.

"We can't let this continue to happen", Trump said.

On Wednesday evening, Twitter continued to add fact-checking labels and "manipulated media" labels on hundreds of tweets.

"They have points of view and if we go by that it's actually wonderful that there was a success in 2016 but we can't let this continue to happen".

Mr Trump wrote a similar post about mail-in ballots on Facebook on Tuesday, and no such warnings were applied.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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