Today, Trump managed to run up against the ramifications of his EO that I predicted yesterday. He quoted some police chief who was on the wrong side of the race riots back in the late 60’s. While his message was first just locked so others couldn’t interact with it (censorship, but not censoring him), my understanding is that the thing is now hidden. Which is censorship. Censorship that is more or less required if the Section 230 exception doesn’t apply to Twitter.
Twitter isn’t responsible for the content users post on their site. The social media business model becomes untenable if they’ve got to employ people and technology to police content sufficiently to minimize legal risk. If they are responsible for content posted on their site, then, yeah, they need to hide/delete posts inciting violence, libelous information, and a whole lot of other data they’ve been allowing to fly. Content that makes up a good bit of Trump’s Twitter usage.
Trump finally issued his Executive Order retaliation against Twitter “censoring” his free speech online. Now I know people who use “talk to the lawyer” as a threat — a lot of people don’t have a decent understanding of the law, and many more people don’t have the time and/or money to deal with litigation. The times I’ve been threatened with “the lawyer”, the person had no legal case against me. I was, I expect, not meant to realize they had no case and cave immediately because lawyer = scary? Trump’s EO seems like the same kind of “empty threat”. Why? The implication of the order harms Trump. He’s a huge abuser of Twitter’s ability to ignore content based on Section 230. A great deal of his campaign strategy hinges on continuing to use Twitter as a platform to spread misinformation and hatred.
I’m not sure he can start regulating Twitter – he can try, and it will move through the courts. A publisher has control over their content — when the Hinckley Record includes letters to the editor on its website or print magazine, someone read through them and decided to include the letter in the publication. All of the comments on my blog are held in a moderation queue. This is sustainable because I get a few hundred visitors a day and a few comments per month. Is it feasible for the Hinckley Record to moderate all comments before they are posted? For a small paper, maybe. Is it feasible for Slate to moderate each comment before it is visible on the site? Is it feasible for Facebook to have someone read every single post before it goes live?! Even if courts decide he can remove Section 230 protections for social media companies … can he regulate the social media platforms that he dislikes while not regulating those who give him more leeway? Twitter loses the protection because they inform us that mail-voting isn’t rife with fraud, but Facebook removes all sorts of content too.
The legal basis for suspending Section 230 protection aside … Twitter hasn’t censored him. Slapping a label on free speech indicating said speech is factually inaccurate isn’t censoring. It could be considered editorializing. Or it could be considered fair warning. And I’m certain there’s a party-line divide on opinions there.