After Twitter fact-check, Trump escalates war on social media protections

Ruben Fields
May 29, 2020

President Donald Trump escalated his feud with Silicon Valley Thursday, accusing tech giants of censorship and issuing an executive order threatening to end the legal protections that shield social-media companies from being liable for content published on their platforms. "I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online".

"The choices Twitter makes when it chooses to edit, blacklist, shadowban are editorial decisions, pure and simple", Trump said during the signing.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post said the order won't survive judicial scrutiny.

Facebook and Twitter have charted separate courses when it comes to political activity.

"We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this", Zuckerberg said.

Legal experts said it was unclear if the Federal Communications Commission would embrace Trump's view of Section 230 laid out in the order.

But an executive order takes the threats to Section 230 to a new level.

The White House order takes aim at a 1996 law passed by Congress that has often been at the center of political fights over regulating speech on social media platforms: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. For instance, last year, Twitter chose to ban political campaign ads, while Facebook said it would continue to allow them.

Also, Section 230 tackles user-generated content; fact-checking notes added by Twitter itself, as it did with Trump, should fall outside these rules, anyway.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News he didn't "think that Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth".

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The White House press secretary was asked by a reporter during Thursday's briefing whether Trump's focus on alleged widespread fraud involving mail-in balloting is laying the groundwork to cast doubt on the outcome of November's presidential election.

PS: The executive order targets social media platforms, including Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said Trump's tweets "may mislead people into thinking they don't need to register to get a ballot".

The pair of tweets that triggered the order came on Tuesday, when POTUS said mail-in ballots were certain to be "substantially fraudulent" and railed against California for enabling "a rigged election".

Early Wednesday, Trump demanded social media platforms "clean up your act" as he warned his administration will begin to regulate and even shutter such websites after Twitter, for the first time ever, fact-checked his tweets.

"Social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield, that's a big deal", Trump said.

The attorney general noted that in addition to his future business with states, the Trump administration is drafting a legislative proposal regarding social media companies, according to Reuters.

Mr Trump - angered this week by Twitter's tagging of one of his tweets for the first time with a fact-check notice - said regulation was needed because the companies are no longer neutral forums but engaging in "political activism". They're pointing to tweets he sent in 2016 and 2017 railing against the president and his allies. The tweet in question related to unsubstantiated claims of fraud linked to mail-in voting.

The order also would ban the federal government from spending money to advertise on platforms that violate outlined "free speech principles". "And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make", he wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening.

Zuckerberg said his company cares "deeply" about giving people a voice and empowering individuals.

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