Trump to take ‘big action’ against social media
United States President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order that redefines the legal protections provided to social media platforms.
It means that platforms like Facebook and Twitter could be sued if they are deemed “deceptively” blockers.
The draft executive order states that social networks are engaged in “selective censorship”.
Trump has regularly accused social media platforms of stifling or censoring conservative rumors.
On Wednesday, Trump accused Twitter of electoral interference after adding fact-checking links to two of his tweets.
“Great action to follow,” he tweeted.
What does the executive order say?
The order aims to clarify the Communications Decency Act, a United States law that offers online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube legal protection in certain situations.
According to article 230 of the law, social networks are generally not held responsible for the content published by their users, but can engage in the “blocking of the good Samaritan”, such as the removal of obscene, harassing or violent content.
And the draft executive order points out that this legal immunity does not apply if a social network modifies the content published by its users.
He also says that “misleading” blocking of posts, including removing a post for reasons other than those described in a website’s terms of service, should not be offered immunity.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio is among those who claim that platforms take on the role of “editor” when they add fact-checking labels to specific posts.
“The law still protects social media companies like Twitter because they are considered forums and not publishers,” said Rubio.
“But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role as a publisher, they should no longer be protected from liability and treated as publishers by law.”
The draft executive decree also provides for:
- the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to specify which type of content blocking will be considered deceptive, pretextual or incompatible with the terms and conditions of a service provider
- a review of government advertising on social media sites and whether those platforms impose point of view restrictions
- the restoration of the White House’s “technological bias reporting tool” which allows citizens to report unfair treatment by social networks
How did social networks respond?
Twitter, who is repeatedly named in the draft executive order, declined to comment.
YouTube, owned by Google, has not yet responded.
On Wednesday, in an interview with Fox News, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that censoring a social media platform would not be the “right reflection” for a government concerned about censorship.
Fox said he will play his full interview with Mr. Zuckerberg on Thursday.
A conservative think tank has warned that executive order could have unintended consequences.
“In the long run, this conservative campaign against social media companies could have a devastating effect on free speech,” said Matthew Feeney of the Cato Institute.
And changing the Communications Decency Act to “impose political neutrality on social media companies” could see platforms full of “legal content that they would otherwise like to remove” such as pornography, violent imagery and racism.
“Or they would have projected the content to an extent that would kill the free flow of social media information we’re used to today,” he said.
Feeney said the draft executive order is a “disaster” but could prove politically popular ahead of the presidential election.
What triggered the last line?
The long-standing dispute between Mr Trump and social media companies rekindled on Tuesday when two of his posts received a fact-checking label from Twitter for the first time.
He had tweeted, without giving evidence: “There is no (zero) way that correspondence votes will be less than substantially fraudulent.”
Twitter added a warning label to the post and linked to a page describing the claims as “unproven”.
So on Wednesday, Trump threatened to “strongly regulate” social media platforms.
He tweeted to his over 80 million followers that Republicans felt the “totally silent conservative” platforms.
And it wouldn’t allow that to happen.
In a previous tweet, he claimed that Twitter was “completely suffocating free speech”.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded to criticism of the platform’s fact-checking policies in a series of posts, saying: “We will continue to report incorrect or disputed information about the global election.”
Trump wrote a similar post on correspondence voting on Facebook on Tuesday, and no such notices were applied.
Twitter has strengthened its policies in recent years, facing criticism, its practical approach has allowed forgeries and disinformation to thrive.
Is Twitter Choking Free Speech?
Analysis by Christopher Giles, BBC Reality Check
Twitter says it applies its rules “impartially to all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation.”
But there is no publicly available list of which accounts have had fact-checking labels or have been suspended.
Twitter reported to BBC News that it had previously added fact-checking labels to two tweets from Chinese government spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who had speculated that the coronavirus may have originated in the United States in March.
The company said the tweets contained “potentially misleading content on Covid-19 and have been labeled to provide additional context to the public.”
But these labels were added retrospectively, after Twitter was scrutinized for including them in President Trump’s posts.
Twitter states that common reasons for suspending accounts are insulting tweets and spam, not censorship of political views.
But critics say Twitter’s decision-making process is opaque.
And these criticisms do not come only from conservatives.
Human rights groups previously claimed that Twitter censored dissident rumors and activists.
In 2018, Dorsey said his staff were “more inclined to the left”.
But he added: “We don’t look at the content with regards to the political point of view or ideology.”