The day after Twitter fact checked two of Trump’s tweets regarding vote by mail as massively fraudulent, he issued an executive order to get even with them.
What Trump would like to do is revoke Twitter and other social media sites’ protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, so that he and other people who think that have been wronged can sue those sites. After all, he has a long history of suing people.
Right after that, Twitter blocked another of Trump’s tweets saying that it violated Twitter’s terms of service by inciting violence, but allowed people to click through the block saying that was because he was an important public figure. Users could not retweet the post, however.
I am not going to spend the time needed to go through the issues with the EO in detail, but Professor Goldman wrote an almost 6,000 word blog post of his own going into significant detail. I will summarize parts of Professor Goldman’s blog for you. A link to his blog is below.
Professor Goldman is a Professor of Law at the Santa Clara University School of Law and is a recognized expert on security, privacy and related law.
Curiously, Mark Zuckerberg has been pretty quiet on the subject, likely due to the many investigations that Facebook is under by the feds and not wanting to make them even more unhappy with him. He did say that he disagreed with the President’s Tweets and also with Twitter’s response and that he is in favor of almost no restrictions to “free speech”. Whether this has anything to do with the money that Russian front companies pay Facebook is unclear – you can draw your own conclusions.
Back to the Executive Order. This is directly from Professor Goldman. You can tell that he is not a fan of the EO.
Section 1 contains policy statements.
Section 2 offers and explains its nonsensical interpretation of Section 230.
Section 3 instructs federal agencies to report on their online advertising. [QUESTION: WHY ARE THE FEDS PAYING FOR ADVERTISING ANYWAY? IS THAT A GOOD USE OF OUR TAX DOLLARS-Mitch]
Section 4 says it’s the policy of the executive branch that “large” online platforms shouldn’t restrict free speech.
Section 5 tells the AG to form a working group of state AGs to investigate how state laws can be used against Internet services; to develop model state legislation; and gather information on specified topics. If it wants, the FTC could also do a report on the 16,000+ reports being delivered to it. [REMEMBER THAT, IN MOST CASES, FEDERAL LAW TRUMPS STATE LAW, SO THIS IS NOT LIKELY TO BE PRODUCTIVE.]
Section 6 tells the AG to draft federal legislation to advance the EO. [WHICH OF COURSE WOULD NEED TO BE APPROVED BY THE HOUSE AND SENATE, WHICH CAN’T AGREE ON ALMOST ANYTHING.]
Section 7 defines “online platform”.
Section 8 has some boilerplate.
That is the whole EO.
The EO offloads most of the work to the DoJ, FTC and FCC, which can ignore him, for the most part, if they want to.
Professor Goldman and a lot of others say that the contorted interpretation of Section 230 in Section 2 is highly unlikely to stand up in court.
My thought is that any action that these agencies take will bring the agencies to court. While the feds do have a lot of lawyers, Google, Facebook and Twitter could afford to spend a couple of billion dollars if they wanted to in order to tie this up in knots for years and only minimally affect their balance sheets. Google, alone, made $160 billion in revenue last year and had $120 billion in cash on hand.
Big point here – nothing will happen any time soon.
As I said, read Professor Goldman’s blog post for a LOT more detail.
But here is one takeaway and I have no clue or inside knowledge on this.
Twitter and it’s competitors – and more likely their smaller competitors that don’t have a hundred billion in cash – might do this to protect themselves.
Be very consistent. Do not treat anyone specially. That includes the President.
Make sure their terms of service are very clear about what is allowed and what is not allowed.
Then enforce the terms of service rigorously.
If the terms of service say that inciting violence, promoting conspiracy theories and alleging statements as fact that cannot be proven all violate their terms of service AND THEY APPLY THESE TERMS CONSISTENTLY, then most of Trump’s Tweets will go into the incinerator. As will many others.
Is that what the President is trying to achieve?
He says that he will shut down Twitter if he has to. Okay. sure. Expect a REALLY long legal fight if he tries.
In the meantime, if Twitter is, hypothetically, shut down or severely reigned in, what does he replace it with? CNN? Even Fox News is no longer as friendly as he would like. He is talking about moving to One America. I don’t think it has as big an audience as either Fox or Twitter, but maybe. It appears to be carried by Verizon, if you have FiOS, Centurylink TV and AT&T TV (not sure if that means Directtv).
I think this will give him more opportunity to Tweet about the unfairness of Twitter, but I will be really surprised if it makes Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) likely to be more affectionate towards him. There is no evidence of that so far.
For sure this is something to watch. If the feds to remove Section 230 immunity, expect a very different Internet. Very white bread. Nothing controversial. A whole lot of content that is currently carried will disappear. Along with hundreds of billions of market cap. Stay tuned.