Why is Trump’s executive order against Twitter more about politics than substance?
The riff between Donald Trump and Twitter escalated quickly and as November elections are approaching, this arm wrestling becomes the symbol of a four year debacle over the social media platform’s neutrality over fact checking and misinformation. Ironically enough, the POTUS executive order challenges the liability protection in U.S. law which constitutes the base of internet’s free speech itself.
On Tuesday May 26, Twitter labeled two President Trump’s tweets for fact-checking for the first time, after years of criticism over its inaction on his false and discriminatory posts.
In the labeled tweets he vented about mail-in ballots and falsely claimed that they would cause the November presidential election to be “rigged.”
President Trump’s reaction was as expected, bold. On Wednesday, he accused Twitter of stifling free speech and threatened to “strongly regulate” or shut down social media companies.
Right the next day, he signed an executive order arguing that “companies like Twitter and Facebook are granted liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act because they are treated as “platforms”, rather than “publishers”, which can face lawsuits over content.”
Twitter was not intimidated and has doubled down and on Wednesday, added fact-checking labels to messages from Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry who had claimed that the coronavirus outbreak may have begun in the United States and been brought to China by the U.S. military.
On the same day, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.” and added that “This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth’. Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.”
In addition to being a multifaceted legal conundrum, Trump’s proposal basically assaults the same internet freedom which enabled social media platforms to thrive in the first place. Is no secret that Twitter has always been politicians social media platform of choice to reach their audience and in addition to being an important player in shaping the new politics, it served as an essential tool in Trump’s presidency as well.
“Trump’s Twitter order is unlikely to survive a challenge” commented Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a Washington, DC-based organisation that represents computer and internet companies and added that “the irony that is lost here is that if these protections were to go away, social media services would be far more aggressive in moderating content and terminating accounts.”