President Trump recently accused Twitter of “stifling FREE SPEECH” and interfering in the 2020 election by fact-checking one of his tweets on the issue of voting by mail. The social media site placed a warning on two of Trump’s tweets for the first time earlier in the day, noting that his claim that California would send mail-in ballots to anyone living in the state was false and that mail-in ballots are already in use in several states, including Oregon, Utah, and Nebraska. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale had previously condemned the addition of the fact check, saying in a statement, “Partnering with the biased fake news media’ fact-checkers’ is only a smokescreen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.” See Trump’s Tweet, which started this controversy:
There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
The Twitter fact-check response can be seen in Twitter’s response – click here or in the text below:
Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud
On Tuesday, President Trump made a series of claims about potential voter fraud after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an effort to expand mail-in voting in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. These claims are unsubstantiated, according to CNN, Washington Post, and others. Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud.
Flashback to November of last year when Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey said in a series of tweets that the tech giant would no longer accept political or advocacy advertising of any kind on its platform. The then Trump campaign said that the Twitter ad-block is yet another way big tech is trying to “silence conservatives.” Twitter is trying yet another tactic by being the arbiters now of free speech. Trump again lashed out at Twitter with the following Tweet:
.@Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
Trump took square aim at social media companies and their censorship and election manipulations with a new Executive Order – “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship.” Please take the time to read the text in full – click here. Key elements include:
- Protections Against Online Censorship – social media platforms were given legal liability coverage (Section 230) from 3rd party posts so long as they were acting as a platform, not a publisher. The Executive Order attempts to ensure this.
- State Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices and Anti-Discrimination Laws – are social media companies lying about being open and unbiased to its users, where in fact they are not.
The debate over Section 230 has been raging for years. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, is part of a private company and is making political decisions that will affect the election process of many countries significantly not just the U.S. Aside from the many international issues, for the purpose of this article, we will focus on the U.S. Does Twitter have the right to make these decisions?
Many make the argument that Twitter is a private company and can do what it likes – it’s their platform. Can the electric or telephone company turn off the electricity to political groups they don’t like? Is the telephone company responsible for someone planning a crime against another, because it was arranged on their platform? Still, others argue that the nature of Twitter is in its ability to broadcast messages – not just a one-to-one messaging like in a telephone call. Would this mean an electric company could turn off the electricity to a political office that is producing materials for distribution? Or telephone robocalls? It is a slippery slope argument.
A private company can do as it likes, so long as it follows the law. However, the government has given special status to private social media companies by limiting their legal liability to deliver platform services to the public. Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act of 1996 is a landmark piece of Internet legislation in the U.S. that provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an “interactive computer service” who publish information provided by a third-party user. In essence, the deal is, governments grant protections in order to provide platform services so long as they do not pick and chose service based on the content on their platform.
Hence, social media companies dance between being a platform or a journalist – editing and curating content. They guard the idea that they are platforms. But in fact, they are journalists – deciding the value and publishing of content on their platforms. Aside from this point, is the issue of the “Truth in Advertising” laws that they may be violating. Here is an article where Jack dances around the subject of free speech. Jack will not say they are for or not but suggest they do. Is he really telling the truth to his user base? In the meantime, Head of Twitter site integrity (including election security and misinformation) called Trump White House officials “actual Nazis” and Mitch McConnell a “bag of farts.” Sound unbiased – no?
If Twitter is editing content, they are a journalist and then should be exposed to legal liability like any other journalist. Of course, this would be a nightmare situation for all social media platforms. The cost to moderate the millions of third-party posts and the legal litigation could make the value of these private companies – maybe even zero! The alternative to this legal nightmare for social media companies would need to refrain from editing any content on their platforms. Whether to have truly free speech on social media platforms and what it would mean to society is another issue.
Some believe that Section 230 is unconstitutional and should be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court long ago. This issue has yet to be fully challenged by courts. Perhaps new constitutional laws would need to be developed. Some have advocated for a Social Media Bill of Rights. Trump’s Executive Order is just the first step, and a “bigly” one, in this process. For sure it will face judicial challenges going forward. CNN said, “Trump’s dangerous move against Twitter,” calling it Trump’s temper tantrum. Democrats are obviously unhappy – they know that these social media companies have helped them tremendously. “This is a sad distraction,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) – click here for more reactions.
Does it matter that social media is censoring? Yes! For example, Dr. Robert Epstein a social media Left-wing researcher stated that 2.6 million votes were skewed for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. For most, we don’t need to convince you of the power of social media but see Dr. Robert Epstein Congressional testimony below and what his studies found:
Americans have seen their free speech civil rights continually eroded over the years – in other major developed countries as well. Will free speech civil rights will get better or worse? The answer is – it will only get worse if governments continue their power grab. Ever-increasing power over people is addictive. The 1984 dystopian world is becoming a reality, and everyone knows it. And now there is a lot of corporate money at stake. Since Trump floated the idea, social media stocks have taken a hit by as much as 10% – for good reason. Free speech is the cornerstone of our Republic – preserve it.
Finally, Thank you, President Trump.