On Thursday, writing for The Daily Beast, national security reporter Spencer Ackerman and White House reporter Asawin Suebsaeng outlined the potential consequences of President Donald Trump’s new executive order targeting social media platforms.
“Trump is trying to push a lasting structural change upon the internet, one that internet-freedom advocates fear will entrench a disincentive for any social media company to block disinformation on their platform,” they wrote. “And it comes after Twitter, an open sewer for disinformation, took a very meager step to stop Trump from suppressing the vote in November.”
“In signing an executive order on Thursday, Trump called for ‘new regulations’ with respect to the provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act permitting internet companies to remove or restrict content they host ‘that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable,'” they wrote. “The provision, Section 230, establishes that social-media and other internet content hosts are platforms, not publishers, and therefore not legally liable for what users say, do, or experience online.”
“Trump’s proposal declared that ‘a provider should properly lose the limited liability shield’ of Section 230 if it’s found to ‘silence viewpoints that they dislike,'” they wrote. “As a means for determining that, it called for ‘all executive departments and agencies’ to review how they were applying the provision and for a rule-making petition to be filed to the Federal Communications Commission within 60 days. Trump’s order also instructed loyalist Attorney General Bill Barr to propose legislation ‘useful to promote the policy objectives of this order’ and advised heads of various government agencies to review the advertising dollars that they were spending on social media platforms.”
“Collectively, the order suggests social media companies may face penalties — real or potential — for attempting to police misinformation on their platforms,” they wrote. “Either, according to longtime observers, is likely to be enough to prompt those companies to revert to their resting state: opening the sluice-gate of misinformation.”
“Thursday’s action is a culmination of that pent up frustration along with years’ worth of right-wing objections that social media ‘shadowbans’ right-wing content,” they wrote. “But the specific issue prompting Trump to act was not any generic grievance. It was his false assertion that voting by mail — an expansion of which is under consideration because of the novel coronavirus that has killed 100,000 Americans in three months — will lead to systematic voter fraud.” Specifically, Twitter appended a fact-check to his tweets saying this.
“The irony is that Twitter’s tentative step toward confronting deceit on its platform is a departure from social-media firms’ economic logic, in which what matters is the mass collection and commodification of user data, not hosting truthful discourse,” they wrote. “That logic explains why Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg criticized Twitter for playing the ‘arbiter of truth.’ That position was also captured in a recently leaked memo from Facebook executive Andy Bosworth that compared ensuring veracity on Facebook to the temptations of JRR Tolkein’s One Ring, a dark power that corrupts the ringbearer.”
The upshot is that with this rule in place, social media companies will have a stronger incentive than ever to sit by as Trump and his allies spread false information about the election — and use lies to try to kill policies that make voting easier.
You can read more here.