FILE PHOTO: People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration. Kacper Pempel April 29, 2020 01:04pm EDT

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

President Trump signed an executive order last week, classifying social media platforms as “publishers” that are “exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.” The order alleges that online social media platforms are engaging in “selective censorship” that is harming collective discourse. Lastly, the order attempts to “clarify” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), and narrow the limitations on liability for social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. 

Section 230 of the CDA was created in the wake of a lawsuit by Jordan Belfort, against a then-startup web forum, which hosted a user post including a tip about the “Wolf of Wall Street” business being involved in a fraud. An amendment in the early 1990s included “interactive computer services” in a safe harbor or protected class from certain forms of liability. Section 230 allows companies like Facebook and Twitter to not be held liable for potentially illegal or unauthorized posts made on their platforms. These companies are not regulated as publishers, which traditionally face increased liability for the content they distribute. 

The push for reforming Section 230 is bipartisan. President Trump’s action last week follows earlier calls from the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who said it  “should be revoked” earlier this year.

President Trump has argued that the 1st Amendment, which only applies to government restrictions, should be applied to social media platforms acting as public squares. The executive order was signed just days after one of the President’s tweets was issued a Public Interest warning label or “fact check tag.” Former Vice President Biden raised concerns about the spread of misinformation, as well as election tampering that may be facilitated by these platforms. 

The Chamber of Commerce and Internet Association (IA) expressed strong opposition, with IA President stating the executive order was “designed to punish a handful of companies for perceived slights.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called for reforms to Section 230 protections, and openly challenged Twitter’s new fact check policy last week when he said “I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms, in general, should be arbiters of truth.”

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Trump-appointed FCC commissioner says Twitter CEO is ‘weaponizing’ his business for his ‘partisan political beliefs’ – CNBC – 6/1/2020
Republican Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is “weaponizing” the company for “his own partisan political beliefs.”

The Trump-Twitter fight ropes in the rest of Silicon Valley – Politico – 5/30/2020
The deepening feud between the president and his go-to social media platform is forcing companies like Facebook and Google to gird for a lobbying battle to defend the legal protections that underpin their lucrative business models, sooner and much more publicly than they had originally expected.

The Utter Incoherence of Trump’s Battle With Twitter – The Atlantic – 5/30/2020
But on Tuesday, Twitter did something it had never done before. It fact-checked Trump, or, more precisely, it added a small label with an exclamation point and the words “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” to two of Trump’s tweets that contained false claims about voter fraud. Clicking on the label leads to a Twitter announcement headlined “Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.

Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout to Protest Trump Posts – New York Times – 6/1/2020
Dozens of Facebook employees, in rare public criticism on Monday of their own company, protested executives’ decision not to do anything about inflammatory posts that President Trump had placed on the giant social media platform over the last week.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Jack on Twitter, 5/27/2020: 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. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.

Ned Ryun on Twitter, 5/29/2020: “If Twitter and Google and the rest are going to editorialize and censor and act like traditional publishers, they should be treated like traditional publishers and stop receiving the special carve out from the federal government in Section 230.”

Gregg Carlstrom on Twitter, 5/30/2020: Trump’s threats have an audience of one: Mark Zuckerberg. “He is unlikely to repeal Section 230… he wants to make sure that the red-carpet treatment he has received so far, especially at Facebook, continues without impediment.”

Allum Bokhari on Twitter, 5/29/2020: Zuckerberg says that the government holding tech giants to a higher standard on free speech amounts to “censorship.” How idiotic would you have to be to believe that?

Tom Gara on Twitter, 5/28/2020: This. (And in the hypothetical world where 230 gets killed and it becomes legally impossible to allow user generated content without employing tens of thousands of moderators and hundreds of lawyers, the beneficiaries are pretty clearly FB, Google and Amazon)

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, 5/29/20: Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party. They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States. Section 230 should be revoked by Congress. Until then, it will be regulated!

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