Going to war with Twitter, Trump threatens critical social media legal protections

Accusing Twitter of censorship for adding a contextual label to false claims he made about the 2020 election process, President Trump has again declared war on social media companies.

After the White House told reporters that the president would soon announce an executive order “pertaining to social media,” the draft of that order is out in circulation. We’ve reviewed the draft, and while its contents are somewhat shocking by the standards of a normal administration, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Trump administration lash out at social media companies over accusations of political bias. In fact, we may be seeing the same executive order now that circulated in draft form last year.

A draft of an executive order is just that: a draft. Until the administration actually introduces or signs an order, its wishes — and threats — should be taken with a grain of salt. But we can get an idea of what this White House has in mind for punishing social media companies for ongoing unfounded claims of anti-conservative censorship.

The president’s draft order tries to exert control over social media companies in a few ways. The most ominous of those is by attacking a law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That law, often regarded as the legal infrastructure for the social internet, shields online platforms from legal liability for the content their users create. Without the law, Twitter or Facebook or YouTube (or Yelp or Reddit or any website with a comments section, including this one) could be sued for the stuff their users post.

Whether you think they should be held more accountable for their content or not, in a world without Section 230, social media companies would never have been able to scale into the services we use today.

The draft order attacks this legal provision by claiming that that part of the law means that “an online platform that engaged in any editing or restriction of content posted by others thereby became itself a ‘publisher,’” implying that a company would then be legally liable for things its users say.

This interpretation appears to be a willful inversion of what the law really intends. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who co-authored Section 230, often says that the law provides companies with both a sword and a shield. The “shield” protects companies from legal liability and the “sword” allows them to make moderation decisions without facing liability for that either.

While Trump is trying to intimidate social media companies into doing even less moderation — such as Twitter labeling the falsehood he tweeted — the consensus beyond this politically expedient viewpoint is that social media should actually be removing and contextualizing more of the potentially harmful content on their platforms.

In a statement Thursday, Wyden called the order “plainly illegal.”

“As the co-author of Section 230, let me make this clear – there is nothing in the law about political neutrality,” Wyden said. “It does not say companies like Twitter are forced to carry misinformation about voting, especially from the president. Efforts to erode Section 230 will only make online content more likely to be false and dangerous.”

Beyond attacking Twitter’s moderation decisions through Section 230, the draft executive order says the White House will reestablish a “tech bias” reporting tool, presumably so it can unsystematically collect anecdotal evidence that he and his supporters are being unfairly targeted on social platforms. According to the order, the White House would then submit those reports to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The order would further rope in the FTC to make a public report of complaints and “consider taking action” against social media companies that “restrict speech.”

It’s not clear what kind of action, if any, the FTC would have legal ground to take.

The order also asks the Commerce Secretary to file a petition that would require the Federal Communications Commission to “clarify” parts of Section 230 — a role the commission isn’t likely eager to embrace.

“Social media can be frustrating. But an executive order that would turn the FCC into the president’s speech police is not the answer,” Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted on Thursday morning.

The order also calls for the U.S. Attorney General William Barr to form a working group of state attorneys general “regarding the enforcement of state statutes” to collect information about social media practices, another presumably legally unsound exercise in partisanship. Barr, a close Trump ally, has expressed his own appetite for dismantling tech’s legal protections in recent months.

While Trump’s executive order may prove toothless, there is some appetite for dismantling Section 230 among tech’s critics in Congress — a branch of the government with much more power to hold companies accountable.

The most prominent of those threats is currently the EARN-IT Act, a bipartisan Senate bill introduced in March that would amend Section 230 “to allow companies to “‘earn’ their liability protection” under the guise of pressuring them to crack down on enforcement against child sexual exploitation. The executive order doesn’t directly connect to that proposal, but sounding the war drums against the tech industry’s key legal provision will likely signal Trump’s Republican allies to double down on those efforts.

In response to the circulating draft executive order, Twitter declined to comment when reached by TechCrunch, and Facebook and Google did not respond to our emails. The Internet Association, the lobbying group that represents the interests of internet companies, was out with a statement opposing the president’s efforts on Thursday morning:

“Section 230, by design and reinforced by several decades of case law, empowers platforms and services to remove harmful, dangerous, and illegal content based on their terms of service, regardless of who posted the content or their motivations for doing so.

“Based on media reports, this proposed executive order seems designed to punish a handful of companies for perceived slights and is inconsistent with the purpose and text of Section 230. It stands to undermine a variety of government efforts to protect public safety and spread critical information online through social media and threatens the vibrancy of a core segment of our economy.”

The group also pointed to the fact that political figures rely on social media to successfully broadcast their thoughts to millions of followers every day—80 million, in Trumps’ case.

The ACLU also weighed in on the executive order Thursday morning. “Much as he might wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane. “This order, if issued, would be a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president.”

“Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230. If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation, and threats.”

from Social – TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/28/trump-twitter-executive-order-social-media/
via Superb Summers

Daily Crunch: Twitter vs. Trump

Tensions escalate between President Trump and his favorite social media platform, Google and Microsoft considering investing in the Indian telecom market and the Raspberry Pi foundation announces a new Raspberry Pi.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 28, 2020.

1. Jack Dorsey explains why Twitter fact-checked Trump’s false voting claims

After Twitter flagged a pair of President Trump’s tweets with a fact-checking label on Tuesday, White House officials denounced a specific Twitter employee and said that the president will soon sign an executive order “pertaining to social media.”

Meanwhile, in a series of tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey resisted the idea that the platform is becoming an “arbiter of truth” and instead said, “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.” He also said, “There is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this.”

2. Google and Microsoft reportedly considering stakes in telecom firms in India after Facebook deal

Weeks after Facebook acquired a 9.9% stake in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, two more American firms are reportedly interested in the Indian telecom market. Google is considering buying a stake of about 5% in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator in India, according to Financial Times. Separately, Microsoft is in talks to invest up to $2 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms, Indian newspaper Mint reported Friday.

3. Raspberry Pi Foundation announces Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB of RAM

As always, you get a single-board computer that is the size of a deck of cards. It has an ARM-based CPU, many ports, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a big community of computer enthusiasts. The 8GB model costs $75, which makes it the most expensive Raspberry Pi out there.

4. Providing card services to fintech companies around the world gives Marqeta a $4.3 billion valuation

This could have been Marqeta’s year to list as a public company on a major American stock exchange. Instead, in the wake of an American economy pushed over the edge by a global pandemic, the company has turned to an undisclosed financial services firm for another $150 million in equity funding.

5. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg shares his COVID-19 strategy and tactics

Hans Vestberg, CEO of TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon, joined us for an episode of Extra Crunch Live. In our discussion, he spoke about how he’s managing the organization during this global crisis, his thoughts on work-from-home, acquisition strategy and the ways in which 5G will change the way we work and live. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. SpaceX’s first astronaut launch is scrubbed due to weather – next attempt set for Saturday

SpaceX and NASA made the call to scrub the launch since there were a couple of weather issues that prevented the attempt from taking place. The next window for the launch is Saturday, May 30 at 3:22 PM EDT.

7. Netflix, Disney+ or HBO Max? The best streaming service for your watching habits

Don’t waste any time arguing! These recommendations are 100% objectively correct.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

from Social – TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/28/daily-crunch-twitter-vs-trump/
via Superb Summers

Jack Dorsey explains why Twitter fact-checked Trump’s false voting claims

After Twitter flagged a pair of President Trump’s tweets with a fact-checking label on Tuesday, tensions between the president and his favored social media platform are running high.

On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—rarely one to pick a political fight—took to his own platform to clarify the company’s decision.

In the statement, Dorsey referenced comments Mark Zuckerberg made to Fox News contrasting Facebook’s obsessively neutral approach to policing its platform with Twitter’s present situation. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Dorsey also denounced Trump’s online supporters and surrogates for going after the company’s executives, asking the Twitter’s newly energized critics, inspired by Trump’s own ire toward the company, to “please leave our employees out of this.”

On Dorsey’s own account and the official Twitter Safety account, the company clarified that its decision to add a fact-checking link to two of Trump’s tweets stemmed specifically from the possibility that they might “confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.”

In the tweets the company added a label to—but did not hide or remove—the president states falsely that California’s governor is “sending ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state no matter who they are or how they got there.” In reality, the state is only sending the ballots to registered voters. Trump also made fear-mongering false claims about the integrity of mail-in voting, a system already widely used around the country in the form of absentee ballots.

With his clarification, Dorsey linked to what Twitter calls its “civic integrity policy,” a set of rules prohibiting certain kinds of “manipulative behavior” on the platform. Per those rules, misleading information about how to vote, the documents required to vote or the date and time of an election of other civic process are prohibited. Under the policy, broader claims about elections “such as unsubstantiated claims that an election is ‘rigged’” are not prohibited.

Twitter’s list of possible enforcement actions includes forcing users to delete the tweets, locking their account if the misinformation is present in a bio or permanent suspension “for severe or repeated violations of this policy.”

Though the timing might be coincidental, Tuesday’s move by Twitter came on the heels of a series of tweets from Trump promoting a baseless conspiracy theory that MSNBC host and political rival Joe Scarborough was responsible for the death of a Congressional intern almost two decades prior.

On Wednesday evening, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president would soon sign an executive order “pertaining to social media,” widely expected to be a shocking though likely unsubstantial strike back at Twitter’s policy enforcement choices this week. The order may rehash the White House’s previous stalled efforts to threaten Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a vital legal provision underpinning the modern internet—and wield power against social media companies through the FTC and FCC.

Alluding to the expected retaliation, Trump tweeted “Stay Tuned!!!” to his more than 80 million followers.

from Social – TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/27/twitter-vs-trump-fact-checking-dorsey/
via Superb Summers