May 29, 2020

Trump vs. Twitter

“President Donald Trump escalated his war on Twitter and other social media companies Thursday, signing an executive order challenging the lawsuit protections that have served as a bedrock for unfettered speech on the internet

“Trump and his campaign reacted after Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots ‘fraudulent’ and predicted ‘mail boxes will be robbed.’ Under the tweets, there’s now a link reading ‘Get the facts about mail-in ballots’ that guides users to a page with fact checks.” AP News

Here’s our coverage of another recent controversy involving President Trump and Twitter. The Flip Side

Both sides generally oppose the executive order:

“The government has no place second-guessing such decisions. Speech isn’t always either black or white, to say nothing of red or blue… Do Islamism and white separatism count as ‘political viewpoints,’ in which case muting extremists could be counted as ‘bias’? Could a site be dinged for booting Louis Farrakhan or Alex Jones, the conspiracist who has called the Sandy Hook shooting a hoax? Maybe the courts would be asked to sort it out. The Constitution protects fringe views, but it doesn’t require Twitter or Facebook to disseminate them

“If conservatives think websites like Twitter and Facebook are hopelessly biased, they’re welcome to delete their accounts. We think Facebook is wiser than Twitter in deciding not to fact-check campaign speech. But as Twitter rolls out more fact checking, people can holler if specious claims by Democrats go oddly untouched, and outcry often works.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“It’s an especially ridiculous overreach coming from a president who supposedly hates regulation. It’s built on anecdotes about bias rather than research. It pretends that the liability shield Congress provided in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act enabled Big Tech companies to become global behemoths, rather than feckless antitrust enforcement. And it ignores the fact that the tech giants can survive without Section 230, while the upstarts that would compete with them cannot…

“We all have complaints about how powerful Big Tech has become and how the various companies do and do not enforce their terms of service. But having the government regulate those decisions won’t make them better. It will only force the companies to bend their policies to the whims of whichever administration happens to be in power.”
Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The move is likely toothless. The executive order vaguely calls for the Federal Communications Commission to ‘clarify’ Section 230. As legal experts pointed out, this will probably come to nothing whatsoever. Trump cannot change this law by himself, and the FCC will probably do nothing. But the intended effect is the real point here. And the intended effect is to make social media companies pause before fact-checking Trump.”
Greg Sargent, Washington Post

“Most surprising is that this particular tweet resulted in action by Twitter. It’s pure political hyperbole from a politician running for office. It’s not as though he accused someone of murder. That came earlier…

“Is Twitter going to match Trump tweet for tweet? Picking the voter fraud tweet for the first response sets a pretty low threshold. In truth, the problem is that Twitter has decided to treat Trump differently. It ignored his violation of its standards because he’s president. It's fact-checking him because he’s president. And that will lead to retaliation — because he’s president… If Twitter applied its rules to all, controversial things would still be said and debated by the American people, on Twitter and off. Twitter just wouldn’t be an accomplice to falsehoods and harassment.”
Ken Paulson, USA Today

“For some people, the answer is simple: If a tweet violates Twitter’s official rules, it should come down regardless of who posted it. If anything, the more powerful the figure, the greater potential they have to cause harm. But in democratic societies, at least, this isn’t always obviously the right answer. Democracy is based on the idea that voters should have access to information about who their candidates really are and what they believe. This remains true even (or, perhaps, especially) when those beliefs are abhorrent…

“In general, the debate about content moderation needs to move beyond taking things down versus leaving them up… [Tech platforms] have far more nuanced tools at their disposal than historically have been available to deal with harmful speech. Platforms can put a warning label on egregiously false and misleading posts or limit their recirculation, instead of just removing them; even subtle steps, such as changing the visibility of ‘likes’ or ‘shares,’ or how easy it is for users to share things, can dampen the virality of divisive falsehoods… The threshold for completely removing a statement by a democratically elected leader should be extraordinarily high.”
Evelyn Douek, The Atlantic

“The libel umbrella Trump wants to snatch away is the only reason that Twitter would leave a false and defamatory tweet like the Scarborough allegation untouched; without section 230, Twitter would be treated like a traditional publisher, such as a newspaper, and would risk liability if it didn’t take the president’s tweet down… If the president really wants to get rid of section 230’s protections of internet providers, it means the same defamation laws that keep traditional publishers from turning their pages over to the loudest and most outrageous voices will apply to internet platforms as well. The person most likely to be silenced: Trump himself.”
Kathy Kiely and Lyrissa Lidsky, USA Today

From the Right

When was the last time government intervention made speech more free or fair? Have conservatives forgotten that Citizens United was a decision sparked by bureaucrats who used existing election laws, passed in effort to ensure more ‘fairness,’ to ban political speech? Have they forgotten that how easily IRS officials tasked as arbiters of that fair speech can abuse their power? Maybe they’ll remember when Attorney General Kamala Harris is overseeing the White House Office of Digital Strategy and regulating online speech.”
David Harsanyi, National Review

“The leader of the free world evidently believes that requiring platforms to be neutral arbiters in order to keep Section 230 protections would result in them ceasing to censor conservatives. Trump's executive order, which would attempt to hold the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission accountable to the executive branch, would instead create a perverse incentive for companies to permit only speech that they specifically publish...

“Why? Because not one company, not even media giants such as Twitter and Facebook, will gamble on the federal government's interpretation of whatever neutrality means or have the staff to moderate every single assertion posted to their sites…

“And so, the masses would be forced to buy their own website domains and hope that emails would be enough to circulate their thoughts if they wished to have their voices heard. Legacy media organizations, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, would become the default. The beneficiaries of Trump's crusade would be the largely liberal newsrooms of legacy media. The losers would be the bloggers and independent accounts that have created something of a renaissance in conservative media.”
Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

“The order is also clearly premature. Twitter has banned certain people from its platform, and conservatives allege it has tended to do so much more for people on the right than on the left. But in Trump’s case, the platform permitted the tweet to stand, with the fact-check providing only commentary on its veracity. In a sense, Twitter acted as a heckler to someone making a political speech — something quite different from barring the speech itself. This does not mean, however, that social media companies should have free rein to censor political speech…

“Social media executives… need to understand their role. Courts have frequently held that privately held property can be forced to permit free speech when it is the functional equivalent of an old town square. If executives try to keep one side out of the square, they should expect a sheriff to ride into town and put things right.”
Henry Olsen, Washington Post

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted, “As currently interpreted by courts, Section 230 treats #BigTech companies as passive distributors even when they substantially transform third-party content, like [Twitter] did to [President Trump]. They get to act like publishers, but without the accountability. That’s a problem!”
Josh Hawley, Twitter

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