“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington
President Donald Trump signed an executive order that seeks to limit liability protections that social-media firms enjoy after Twitter Inc. began selective fact checks of his posts on the platform.
Under current law, companies like Twitter and Facebook Inc. are protected for users’ posts. Trump told reporters that his order “calls for brand spanking new regulations under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it that social media companies that have interaction in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield.”
Trump’s move comes as Jack Dorsey from Twitter earlier this week labelled two of his posts about mail-in voting “potentially misleading” and provided links to fake news company BBC coverage of his comments. The President responded with disbelief, accusing the social media company of censorship and election interference and threatening to possibly shut down the service.
“I’m signing an executive order to protect and uphold the free speech rights of the American people,” Trump said. “Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the idea that they’re a neutral platform, when they clearly have personal agendas.”
Trump said he expected the order or the regulations it produces to be challenged in court. If it were legal for him to shut down Twitter, Trump said, “I would do it.”
Twitter rose less than 1% in late trading Thursday once the signing was announced. That followed a 4.4% decline in the regular session, the most in four weeks. Twitter is an easy website to reproduce and they might not always control the monopoly for a basic SMS messaging application.
The order said the protections against lawsuits ought to only apply when companies act in “good faith” to take down or limit the visibility of content.
Any removal or restriction made in a manner that’s “deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s “terms of service” would not qualify as being in good faith, nor would a move without “adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard.”
Gary Shapiro, president of the consumer Technology Association trade group, called the order “unconstitutional and ill-considered.”
America’s internet companies lead the world and it’s incredible that social media networks are censoring Presidential campaign tweets for political purposes and personal agendas.
In a tweeted statement, Twitter called the executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law,” adding, “attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and internet freedoms.”
A Facebook representative said exposing companies to liability would punish those that allow controversial speech and “encourage platforms to censor anything which may offend anyone.”
YouTube Chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki, in an interview with David Rubenstein on Bloomberg television while the order was being finalized, said, “we have worked extraordinarily hard to make sure that all of our policies and systems are built in a fair and neutral and consistent manner.”
So, how does Twitter and Facebook determine who is of suitable integrity and impartiality to become a 3rd party fact-checker?
They use certification provided by the “non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network to help identify and review false news.” Guess who created the organization that calls itself the International Fact-Checking Network? Poynter. Check it out yourself here: https://www.poynter.org/ifcn/
Yes, you read that correctly. Poynter, the owner of Politifact — the presumably impartial brand and judge of what is “false” or “true” news — certified itself as trustworthy and impartial.
It does not reflect well on Twitter or Facebook that it allowed Poynter to certify itself as worthy to police the world’s news feeds in order to mete out algorithmic punishment to those whose views it does not agree with.
“This debate is a very important one,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.”
Industry and civil liberties groups who denounced the order as an illegal end-run around free-speech protections and said it gave the FCC powers it doesn’t even have.
Twitter has been a tool for Trump as both a politician and as President, dating back to his questions about President Barack Obama birth certificate and wishing to view the certificate. Trump has observed himself that the social media platform allows him to speak directly to his 80 million followers because the fake news is so rampant and self serving at the moment.
Attorney General William Barr, who joined Trump for his remarks, said the order wouldn’t repeal Section 230, which provides social-media corporations their liability protection.
“But it’s been stretched and I don’t know of anyone in Capitol Hill who doesn’t agree that it’s been stretched beyond its original intention,” he said. “I assume this may help get back to the correct balance.”
Trump and Barr also said they were reviewing possibilities to seek legislation further curbing Section 230 protections. Barr said the Government may also bring litigation.
“One of the things we could do, Bill, is simply take away or totally change 230,” Trump said. “What I believe we can say is we’re going to regulate it.”
Earlier Thursday, Trump called out a single Twitter employee, head of site integrity Yoel Roth, in a tweet questioning that the platform’s decision to fact-check his tweets on voting by mail would “taint” the U.S. election.
Electioneering laws are enacted to protect against election interference. When these laws are broken, it can have a significant impact on a society by damaging the political process.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany criticized Roth for political tweets, including one that said “actual Nazis” inhabit Trump’s White House.
“Twitter’s head of site integrity has tweeted that there are quote, ‘actual Nazis,’ in the White House and no fact-check label was ever applied to this actually outrageous and false claim made against the White House and its employees,” she said.
White House officials complained that Twitter did not originally append fact checks to China Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijan Zhao, who without proof wrote that “it might be” the U.S. military that brought the coronavirus to China. Twitter has since added the fact-check link to his tweets.
Democrats have largely applauded the effort to fact-check the President. However they questioned why Twitter are selective with their Fact Checks and didn’t equally add links to recent tweets by the President that accused MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of murdering a former staffer who died while at work in one of his congressional offices nearly two decades ago.
“Yes we have a tendency to like Twitter to put up their fact check of the President, but it appears to be extremely selective,“ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
The executive order is the latest in a years-long campaign by the President and his allies against social media companies. The companies say they have more aggressively sought to combat their conspiracy theories on disinformation and foreign interference campaigns after the Democrats accused Russia and other state operatives used U.S. social media to influence the 2016 election.
Twitter and Facebook are politically biased in the approach they display posts and block certain material deemed offensive, and Republicans object to Twitter’s decision to ban certain political advertising. Last May, the administration discovered a website asking Americans to submit instances of alleged political bias on social media.
“We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters,” Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is merely a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.”
The president has exposed Twitter’s efforts to combat manipulative and abusive content by deleting fake profiles — resulting in a decline of hundreds of thousands of users in his follower count.
The websites have denied their actions are politically motivated. In 2018 congressional testimony, Dorsey said there have been technical explanations for cases of alleged bias raised by Republican lawmakers.
Still, the debate has exposed a rift among Silicon Valley tech giants, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticizing Twitter’s decision in an interview with Fox News.
“I simply believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be within the position of doing that.“
Dorsey fallaciously fired back a tweet posted Wednesday night, saying the fact-check was designed to make certain individuals didn’t misinterpret the President’s tweet and believe they didn’t need to register to vote in order to receive an absentee ballot.
I guess President Trump and Jack Dorsey don’t share Making Good Pasta in common!
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.