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Trump signs executive order aimed at social media companies – CBC.ca
U.S. President Donald Trump escalated his war on social media companies, signing an executive order Thursday challenging the liability protections that have served as a bedrock for unfettered speech on the internet.
Still, the move appears to be more about politics than substance, as the president aims to rally supporters after he lashed out at Twitter for applying fact checks to two of his tweets.
Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter and amounted to political activism. He said it should cost those companies their protection from lawsuits for what is posted on their platforms.
Trump and his allies, who rely heavily on Twitter to verbally flog their foes, have long accused the tech giants in Silicon Valley of targeting conservatives on social media by fact-checking them or removing their posts.
“We’re fed up with it,” Trump said, claiming the order would uphold freedom of speech.
Technology industry groups disagreed, saying it would stifle innovation and speech on the internet. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce objected, “Regardless of the circumstances that led up to this, this is not how public policy is made in the United States.”
The order directs executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies — though experts express doubts much can be done without an act of Congress.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, “This debate is an important one. The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.”
Companies such as 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.
Protections in new NAFTA
Similar protections are now embedded in the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico — and they were added at the U.S.’s insistence. Chapter 19 of the new NAFTA limits the legal liability of social media companies for what they post, and its inclusion in the deal came at the request of the U.S. administration led by Trump.
Article 19.17 of the NAFTA says the digital services shall not be held liable like publishers would for the content they carry — though the provision includes exemptions for things like protecting against crimes.
A similar executive order was previously considered by the administration but shelved over concerns it couldn’t pass legal muster and that it violated conservative principles on deregulation and free speech.
‘Clear political bias,’ says Trump campaign
“They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump said of social media companies as he prepared to sign the order.
“There is no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction.”
Trump and his campaign reacted after Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted “mail boxes will be robbed.” Under the tweets, there’s now a link reading, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” which guides users to a page with fact-checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.
Trump accused Twitter of interfering in the 2020 presidential election and declared “as president, I will not allow this to happen.” His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said Twitter’s “clear political bias” had led the campaign to pull “all our advertising from Twitter months ago.”
In fact, Twitter banned political advertising last November.
Late Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.”
Dorsey added: “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.”
On the other hand, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News his platform has “a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this.”
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said.
Critics call Trump move illegal
The president’s critics, meanwhile, scolded the platforms for allowing him to put forth false or misleading information that could confuse voters.
“Donald Trump’s order is plainly illegal,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat and advocate for internet freedoms. Trump is “desperately trying to steal for himself the power of the courts and Congress. … All for the ability to spread unfiltered lies.”
Trump’s proposal has multiple, serious legal problems and is unlikely to survive a challenge, according to Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a Washington-based organization that represents computer and internet companies.
It would also seem to be an assault on the same online freedom that enabled social media platforms to flourish in the first place — and made them such an effective microphone for Trump and other politicians.
“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,” Schruers said. “Our vibrant public sphere of discussion would devolve into nothing more than pre-approved soundbites.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was “outrageous” that while Twitter had put a fact-check tag on Trump’s tweets asserting massive mail-in election fraud, it had not removed his tweets suggesting without evidence that a TV news host had murdered an aide years ago.
“Their business model is to make money at the expense of the truth and the facts that they know,” she said of social media giants, also mentioning Facebook. She said their goal is to avoid taxes “and they don’t want to be regulated, so they pander to the White House.”
The president and fellow conservatives have been claiming for years that Silicon Valley tech companies are biased against them. But there is no evidence for this — and while many executives and many employees of Twitter, Facebook and Google may lean liberal, the companies have stressed they have no business interest in favouring one political party over the other.
‘Get the facts’
The companies are gearing up to combat misinformation around the November elections. Twitter and Facebook have begun rolling out dozens of new rules to avoid a repeat of the false postings about the candidates and the voting process that marred the 2016 election.
The coronavirus pandemic has escalated the platforms’ response, leading them to take actions against politicians — a move they’ve long resisted — who make misleading claims about the virus.
Last month, Twitter introduced a “Get the Facts” label to direct social media users to news articles from trusted outlets next to tweets containing misleading or disputed information about the virus.
Even as he and his supporters complain of bias on the platform, Trump has used Twitter to build a potent and vocal online following. The president’s account currently has more than 80 million followers.
Trump’s success on social media suggests that his proposal may be more about politics than any interest in regulation, according to Rutgers University media professor John Pavlik, who studies the impact of technology on society and government.
Pavlik said that by trying to intimidate the platforms now, he’s seeking to control how the 2020 campaign plays out online and “about appealing to his base.”
Trump expected to order review of law that protects social media companies – The Globe and Mail
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 intervene in the media.
Trump signed an executive order on Thursday afternoon after attacking Twitter for tagging his tweets for the first time about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.
In addition, Trump said his administration may “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.
“What I think we can say is we’re going to regulate it,” Trump said at the signing of the order.
“I’ve been called by Democrats that want to do this, so I think you could possibly have a bipartisan situation,” said Republican Trump, who is running for re-election in the Nov. 3 vote.
Facebook and Twitter did not comment on the executive order.
Trump’s remarks and the draft 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 favourable to him.
“In terms of presidential efforts to limit critical commentary about themselves, I think one would have to go back to the Sedition Act of 1798 – which made it illegal to say false things about the president and certain other public officials – to find an attack supposedly rooted in law by a president on any entity which comments or prints comments about public issues and public people,” said First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams.
Others like 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 were down 4.4% on Thursday. Facebook was down 1.7 per cent and Google parent Alphabet Inc was up slightly.
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 favour of Democrats. He and his supporters have levelled the same unsubstantiated charges against Facebook, which Trump’s presidential campaign uses heavily as an advertising vehicle.
On Thursday, Trump said there is nothing he would rather do than get rid of his Twitter account but he had to keep it in order to circumvent the press and get his version of events to millions of followers.
The protections of Section 230 have often been under fire for different reasons from lawmakers including Big Tech critic Senator Josh Hawley. Critics argue that they give internet companies a free pass on things like hate speech and content that supports terror organizations.
Social media companies have been under pressure from many quarters, both in the United States and other countries, to better control misinformation and harmful content on their services.
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.”
On Wednesday evening, Twitter continued to add fact-checking labels and ‘manipulated media’ labels on hundreds of tweets.
Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, a trade group that counts Twitter, Facebook and Google among its members, said the proposed executive order “is trampling the First Amendment by threatening the fundamental free speech rights of social media platforms.”
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Diane Francis: Time to rein in social media — and Donald Trump – Financial Post
My definition of freedom is: everyone should have the right to swing an arm, but not hit anybody with it. When it comes to freedom of speech, everyone has a right to their opinion as long as it is not inaccurate, hateful, defamatory or malicious. If that line is crossed, the perpetrators are legally liable for damages. But in America, the world’s most irresponsible media empires — Twitter, Facebook and Google (now Alphabet) — have become giants that allow anyone to spew anything without legal consequences.
They have gotten away with it by claiming they are platforms, not publishers, and are therefore exempt from having to edit or curate what people post. They’ve also spent billions of dollars lobbying and supporting political campaigns, in order to retain this corrosive privilege. By contrast, traditional media is hobbled with the costs of curating responsible advertising and editorial content.
This free pass to social media is the loophole through which that reckless, self-promoter named Donald Trump tweeted his way into the White House. It’s how he and other trolls intimidate, bully and slander their foes.
Europe has begun reining in social media, but elsewhere, these companies operate with impunity and claim they are entitled to self-regulate. But monkeys cannot guard bananas, and Trump’s recent, and most vile, gaming of Twitter illustrates why the same rules should apply to social media as they apply to everyone else.
Last week, Trump smeared a critic, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, blaming him for the death of his assistant, Lori Klausutis, when Scarborough was serving in Congress in 2001, even though there is no evidence of any wrongdoing. The president tweeted on the subject six times, calling the woman’s death a “cold case” that should be investigated, then essentially accusing Scarborough of murder. Twitter refused to remove the tweets, even after the woman’s widower, T.J. Klausutis, wrote to Twitter’s CEO and pointed out the injustice and the social network’s hypocrisy.
“Nearly 19 years ago, my wife, who had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. She was found dead the next morning,” he wrote. “The president’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) — is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.”
Twitter refused to comment on the issue. Meanwhile, Facebook, to which Trump’s unsupported allegation and libel was cross-posted, responded arrogantly: “We do not remove political speech solely because people may find it offensive, as this content understandably is to the family of Lori Klausutis and others. Speech from candidates and heads of state is among the most scrutinized content on our platform, which helps ensure people are held accountable for their words.”
This week, Twitter finally did something to bridle this presidential misbehaviour when it labelled a pair of Trump’s tweets, which claimed that mail-in balloting in this fall’s election would result in widespread voter fraud, as misleading. (But no labels have been applied to the Scarborough tweets.)
Trump erupted and has threatened to take action against Twitter and social media in general. Then he conflated this into a fight for freedom and tweeted: “Big Tech is doing everything in their considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 election. If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let that happen! They tried hard in 2016, and lost. Now they are going absolutely crazy. Stay tuned!!!”
This from a president who labels all critical media as “fake news” and has driven his tank through social media’s anything-goes loophole to damage people, organizations, groups and democracy.
What’s next is that Trump will character assassinate all his opponents and, if he loses the election, he will simply tweet that it was stolen and he’s not leaving. Then what?
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