Twitter calls Trump’s bluff as they hide one of his tweets for ‘glorifying violence’
The US president has signed an executive order that limits social media companies’ liability protections after Twitter previously flagged two of his tweets for fact-checking
Washington — Twitter flagged one of Donald Trump’s posts for violating its rules against glorifying violence, escalating a clash with the US president after he signed an executive order that seeks to limit liability protections for social media companies.
Early on Friday, Twitter obscured the president’s comments about protests in Minneapolis with a warning that the tweet “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible”.
Trump’s executive order came after Twitter began selective fact checks of his posts on the platform. Under current law, companies such as Twitter and Facebook are protected for users’ posts. Trump told reporters that his order “calls for new regulations under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield”.
Earlier this week, Twitter labeled two of his posts about mail-in voting “potentially misleading” and provided links to news coverage of his comments. The president responded with outrage, accusing the company of censorship and election interference and threatening to possibly shut it down.
“I’m signing an executive order to protect and uphold the free speech rights of the American people,” Trump said. “Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not.”
Trump said he expected the order or the regulations it produces to be challenged in court. If it were legal for him to shut down Twitter, Trump said, “I would do it.”
In the clash on Friday over protests in Minnesota after the death of a man in police custody, Trump’s comments, concluding with the words “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, incited a strong response from other Twitter users. Those replies have since been hidden or removed by the company. The options to reply and like the tweet have also been disabled, while the retweet and quote-tweet functions have been left active.
Twitter rose less than 1% in late trading Thursday after the signing was announced. That followed a 4.4% decline in the regular session, the most in four weeks.
The order said the protections against lawsuits should only apply when companies act in “good faith” to take down or limit the visibility of content. Any removal or restriction made in a manner that is “deceptive, pre-textual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service” would not qualify as being in good faith, nor would a move without “adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard”.
Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association trade group, called the order “unconstitutional and ill-considered,” adding that “America’s internet companies lead the world and it is incredible that our own political leaders would seek to censor them for political purposes”.
Twitter has been an essential tool for Trump as both a politician and as president, dating back to his false allegations that president Barack Obama was born in Kenya
In a tweeted statement, Twitter called the executive order “a reactionary and politicised approach to a landmark law”, adding, “attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and internet freedoms”.
A Facebook spokesperson said exposing companies to liability would penalise those that allow controversial speech and “encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone”.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, in an interview with David Rubenstein on Bloomberg Television while the order was being prepared, said, “We have worked extraordinarily hard to make sure that all our policies and systems are built in a fair and neutral and consistent way.”
The department of commerce, in consultation with the attorney-general, will be responsible for petitioning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) within 60 days to craft the new regulation.
“This debate is an important one,” FCC chair Ajit Pai said in a statement. “The FCC will carefully review any petition for rule-making filed by the department of commerce.”
Industry and civil liberties groups, who denounced the order as an illegal end-run around free-speech protections, said it would give the FCC powers it does not actually have.
Twitter has been an essential tool for Trump as both a politician and as president, dating back to his false allegations that president Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Trump has observed himself that the social media platform allows him to dodge the press and speak directly to his 80-million followers. It has also afforded him the unfettered opportunity to assail political opponents and to promulgate conspiracy theories and other misinformation.
Attorney-general William Barr, who joined Trump for his remarks, said the order would not repeal section 230, which provides social media companies their liability protection, “But it’s been stretched and I don’t know of anyone in Capitol Hill who doesn’t agree that it’s been stretched beyond its original intention. I think this will help get back to the right balance.”
Trump and Barr also said they are reviewing possibilities to seek legislation further curbing section 230 protections. Barr said the government may also bring litigation.
“One of the things we may do, Bill, is just remove or totally change 230,” Trump said. “What I think we can say is we’re going to regulate it.”
Earlier on Thursday, Trump called out a single Twitter employee, head of site integrity Yoel Roth, in a tweet complaining that the platform’s decision to fact check his tweets on voting by mail could “taint” the US election.
White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany criticised Roth for political tweets, including one that said “actual Nazis” inhabit Trump’s White House.
“Twitter’s head of site integrity has tweeted that there are quote, ‘actual Nazis’, in the White House and no fact check label was ever applied to this actually outrageous and false claim made against the White House and its employees,” she said.
White House officials complained that Twitter did not originally append fact checks to China foreign ministry spokesperson Lijan Zhao, who, without evidence, wrote that “it might be” the US military that brought the coronavirus to China. Twitter has since added the fact-check link to his tweets.
Democrats have largely applauded the effort to fact check the president. But they questioned why Twitter didn’t similarly add links to recent tweets by the president that baselessly accused MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of murdering a former staffer who died while at work in one of his congressional offices nearly two decades ago.
“Yes we like Twitter to put up their fact check of the president, but it seems to be very selective,” House speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
The executive order is the latest in a years-long campaign by the president and his allies against social media companies. The companies say they have more aggressively sought to combat disinformation and foreign interference campaigns after the federal government found that Russia and other state operatives used US social media to influence the 2016 election.
Republicans have alleged that Twitter and Facebook are politically biased in the way they display posts and block certain material deemed offensive, and objected to Twitter’s decision to ban certain political advertising. Last May, the administration set up a website asking Americans to submit instances of alleged political bias on social media.
“We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters,” Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.”
The president has complained about Twitter’s efforts to combat manipulative and abusive content by deleting fake profiles — leading to a decline of hundreds of thousands of users in his follower count.
The websites have denied their actions are politically motivated, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said then that he also lost about 200,000 followers in the purge. In 2018 congressional testimony, Dorsey said there were technical explanations for cases of alleged bias raised by Republican lawmakers.
Still, the debate has exposed a rift among Silicon Valley tech giants, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticising Twitter’s decision in an interview with Fox News.
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Dorsey fired back in a tweet posted Wednesday night, saying the fact check was designed to make sure people didn’t misunderstand the president’s tweet and believe they didn’t need to register to vote to receive an absentee ballot.