I am darn glad I left Facebook. Seeing his industry come under attack from tyrant Donald Trump over Twitter’s modest effort to point out that Trump is making false statements about the integrity of voting by mail, social media corporatist and division-capitalizer Mark Zuckerberg simpers with quisling nihilism:
“I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I think that’s kind of a dangerous line to get to in terms of deciding what is true and what isn’t” [John D. McKinnon and Rebecca Balhaus, “Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting Social Media,” Wall Street Journal, 2020.05.28].
Discerning truth from falsehood, fact from fiction, reality from error, is not dangerous. Discerning truth from falsehood is necessary to physical survival and sanity.
Twitter, meanwhile, responds to tyranny-propping nihilism by slapping BS flags on hundreds more questionable Tweets:
Twitter’s policies call for adding labels to potentially misleading information on subjects including elections and the coronavirus outbreak. The company this week added its fact-check label to posts from Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, claiming that COVID-19 originated in the U.S. because the posts contained “potentially misleading content” about the coronavirus, a Twitter official told The Hill.
…Twitter also added labels to posts falsely claiming that a Minneapolis police officer involved in the arrest of George Floyd was the same man pictured in a red “Make Whites Great Again” hat. The posts, some of which went viral earlier this week, now include “manipulated media” labels appended to them.
Hundreds of tweets like the one Ice Cube shared were flagged based on Twitter’s “synthetic and manipulated media policy,” a spokesperson said, noting that the company began taking action on them on Wednesday [Justin Wise, “Twitter Adds Fact-Checking Labels to Hundreds of Tweets Despite Trump Attacks,” The Hill, 2020.05.28].
Today’s executive order epitomizes the hilarious self-contradiction of Trumpism. The order accuses online media minders of “invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications” for their actions. It Newspeakishly refers to attested facts of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a hoax. It promises to “foster and protect diverse viewpoints… seek transparency and accountability… [and] protect and preserve the integrity and openness of American discourse.”
Reading a Trump order is like listening to a hooker lecture against promiscuity. (Hmm… I wonder she’d charge for that service….)
Buried in the tedious Newspeak is the nub of Trump’s attack: he plans to rewrite Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, without any Congressional authorization, to define online media companies as bad-faith actors for choosing to remove (or, in Twitter’s case simply tag with more reliable explanatory information) anything Trump or his followers say and thus subject them to a tsunami of lawsuits.
The order throws a bunch of other spaghetti at online media: threats to pull government advertising from disagreeable online companies, to sic the Justice Department and toady state attorneys general on them for any viewpoint discrimination or deception of consumers (again, how can we not laugh at Donald Trump threatening to punish others who lie to the American people?)
Fortunately, any action the Executive Branch takes along the lines of this order will likely collapse on first contact with the courts. Just yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the heart of this week’s Trump rant, that Twitter is “censoring” him, is bunk:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit resoundingly rejected a lawsuit the conservative legal organization Freedom Watch and right-wing provocateur Laura Loomer filed in 2018 against four major technology companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple.
Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have banned Loomer, citing anti-Muslim statements.
The unanimous court decision from a three-judge panel runs to only four pages, but is dismissive of a wide range of legal claims some conservatives and liberals have leveled at social media firms in recent months.
The appeals court judges said that, despite the companies’ power, they cannot violate the First Amendment because it regulates only governments, not the private sector.
“Freedom Watch’s First Amendment claim fails because it does not adequately allege that the Platforms can violate the First Amendment. In general, the First Amendment ‘prohibits only governmental abridgment of speech,’” the court said.
“Freedom Watch contends that, because the Platforms provide an important forum for speech, they are engaged in state action. But … ‘a private entity who provides a forum for speech is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor.’ … Freedom Watch fails to point to additional facts indicating that these Platforms are engaged in state action and thus fails to state a viable First Amendment claim,” the judges added [Josh Gerstein, “Appeals Court Ruling Suggests Little Traction for Trump’s Anti-Twitter Campaign,” Politico, 2020.05.27.
Legal experts agree that this order will do nothing, since the Constitution still says Congress makes laws and the courts interpret them, while the Executive Branch gets to do neither. Even if Trump could find a way to scribble his preferred meaning onto the Communications Decency Act, he could find repealing online media’s limited immunity could get kick him kicked off Twitter and every other lawsuit-shy platform:
Proponents of Section 230 say both social media platforms and sites like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive would not be able to exist in the same way without the law. If the sites were responsible for everything users posted, the cost of defending against a deluge of lawsuits could prove crippling, advocates of the law argue.
Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the order an attempt to punish social media companies for posts that displease the president.
“Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230,” Ruane said. “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“ [Bobby Allyn, “Stung By Twitter, Trump Signs Executive Order To Weaken Social Media Companies,” NPR, 2020.05.28].
Like even the best farts, Trump’s gaseous order will stink up the joint but not force any change other than maybe the originator’s shorts. Trump’s noxious expulsion lacks the legal substance to impose any penalty on anyone online who posts a comment from Donald Trump and then writes, “That’s not true, and here’s the proof.”
Deciding what is true and what is false is no more dangerous under this new, legally unactionable executive order than it was yesterday. The real danger (Markie Z.), as always, lies in letting Trumpist lies, or lies from any source, go unchallenged.