President Donald Trump has signed an executive order targeting social media companies over their censorship of conservative voices and right-leaning content on their platforms.
In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, President Trump gave remarks prior to signing the order. He told reporters, “Social media companies have had unchecked power to restrict, edit, shape, hide and alter any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences… and we cannot allow that to happen.”
Social media companies are protected by law from being held liable for content which appears on their platforms, since the companies are only public platforms for others to express their opinions, rather than publishers of their own content.
However, some argue that when a tech company fact-checks, censors or removes political content, it ceases to be a neutral public platform and transforms into a publisher.
“The choices that Twitter makes when it chooses to suppress, edit, blacklist or shadow ban, are editorial decisions, pure and simple, they are editorial decisions,” the president said while announcing the order. “In these moments Twitter ceases to be a public platform and becomes an editor with a viewpoint.”
The president’s order did three things. First, it called for new regulations under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that social media companies that censor or promote certain political viewpoints won’t be shielded from liability for what users post on their platforms.
Second, the order directed Attorney General Bill Barr to work with states to enforce laws already on the books prohibiting deceptive business practices. Lastly, the order directed the Trump Administration to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are going to social media companies that restrict free speech.
Attorney General Barr stood behind the president while he announced the order and also gave remarks.
“Section 230 has been scratched way beyond its original intention. This was adopted 25 years ago to protect the industry,” Barr stated. “Now it’s been completely stretched to allow… [social media companies] to engage in censorship of that information and to act as editors and publishers of the material.”
The executive order comes as different social media companies have taken different approaches in curating content on their platforms. In general, Facebook has taken a more lenient approach than Twitter has.
In an interview with Dana Perino on Fox News on Thursday, Zuckerberg said, “We have a different policy than Twitter. I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”
Twitter, however, has directly “fact-checked” some of the president’s tweets.
On May 26, President Trump wrote two tweets about his concerns that mail-in voting could lead to additional voter fraud. Twitter placed an alert below both tweets which read, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” Clicking on the alert leads to an article in Politico with the headline, “Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.”
Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey defended his decision to fact-check the president’s tweets. “There is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me… We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally,” Dorsey wrote.
However, there are serious concerns that these kinds of editorial decisions give big tech companies excessive power over who they choose to fact-check, what sources they use to provide the ‘facts’ and whether this allows them to tip the scales in favor of their chosen political candidates. For many conservatives, it seems that Twitter and other tech companies specifically target right-leaning voices.
Twitter’s head fact-checker, Yoel Roth, has a history of mocking President Trump and his supporters with politically charged language.
On November 8, 2016, Roth tweeted, “I’m just saying, we fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason.” Additionally, Roth has referred to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a “personality-free bag of farts,” and has said that he gave $100 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., weighed in at a press conference on Thursday saying that she doesn’t think Twitter and Facebook are doing enough to censor content on their platforms. “It’s outrageous. While Twitter is putting up its fact-check under what the president says about voting, it still won’t take off the misrepresentations the president’s putting out there,” Speaker Pelosi said about Twitter.
Regarding Facebook, Speaker Pelosi was even more critical. “Facebook, they’re all about making money. Their business model is to make money at the expense of the truth and the facts that they know,” she said.
As the president’s executive order takes effect, and the lawsuits that are sure to follow arise, what do you think?
Have you seen a social media company fact-check or censor a liberal voice? Do you think additional regulations on social media companies are needed?
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