Trump's War Against Social Media
President Donald Trump said he will introduce legislation that may scrap or weaken a law that has protected internet companies, including Twitter and Facebook, in an extraordinary attempt to regulate social media platforms where he has been criticized.
The proposed legislation is part of an executive order Trump signed on Thursday afternoon. Trump had attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.
Trump wants to “remove or change” a provision of a law known as Section 230 that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users.
Trump said U.S. Attorney General William Barr will begin drafting legislation “immediately” to regulate social media companies.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported the White House’s plan to modify Section 230 based on a copy of a draft executive order that experts said was unlikely to survive legal scrutiny. The final version of the order released on Thursday had no major changes except the proposal for a federal legislation.
“What I think we can say is we’re going to regulate it,” Trump said before the signing of the order.
Twitter called the order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law” and said attempts to weaken Section 230 would “threaten the future of online speech.”
A Google spokeswoman said the order would harm “America’s economy,” while a Facebook spokesman said it would “encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone.”
The order, as written, attempts to circumvent Congress and the courts in directing changes to long-established interpretations of Section 230. It represents his latest attempt to use the tools of the presidency to force private companies to change policies that he believes are not favorable to him.
Jack Balkin, a Yale University constitutional law professor, said “the president is trying to frighten, coerce, scare, cajole social media companies to leave him alone and not do what Twitter has just done to him.”
Twitter’s shares ended over 4 percent down on Thursday. Facebook ended down 1.6 percent and Google parent Alphabet Inc finished slightly up.
Trump, who uses Twitter virtually every day to promote his policies and insult his opponents, has long claimed without evidence that the site is biased in favor of Democrats. He and his supporters have leveled the same unsubstantiated charges against Facebook, which Trump’s presidential campaign uses heavily as an advertising vehicle.
He took to Twitter again Thursday night to cast doubt around voting by mail, tweeting the practice would lead to “MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE” and “THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY.”
Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said on the company’s website late Wednesday that the president’s tweets “may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot. Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.”
After labeling Trump’s tweets, Twitter continued to add fact-checking and ‘manipulated media’ labels on hundreds of other tweets./reuters.com