Trump threatens to ‘strongly regulate’ or ‘close down’ social media platforms after Twitter fact check


MAY 27, 2020

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks on protecting seniors with diabetes during a event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. – BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI, AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump is threatening to “strongly regulate” or “close down” social media platforms a day after Twitter added a “fact check” label to two of his tweets about mail-in ballots.

After tweeting Tuesday that “Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election” and “stifling FREE SPEECH,” Trump initially tweeted again Wednesday about social media platforms without specifically naming Twitter, which has been his favorite platform to post unfiltered views to his millions of followers.

Asserting that “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” Trump tweeted, “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”

Hours later he called out Twitter in a tweet and wrote: “Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!”

He also repeated his claims Wednesday morning about mail-in ballots, tweeting that expanding mail-in voting “would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots.”

A fact check label had not been added to the new tweet about mail-in ballots as of Wednesday morning.

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About two hours after Trump first tweeted Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about joining the Freedom Online Coalition’s call to promote and protect internet freedom “at all times.”

“The U.S. stands against, and will not tolerate, government-imposed Internet shutdowns and other forms of censorship during or after this pandemic,” Pompeo tweeted Wednesday.

Robert A. Destro, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor, also tweeted about joining with the coalition and calling on governments to ensure that human rights are protected online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president can’t unilaterally regulate or close the companies, which would require action by Congress or the Federal Communications Commission. But that didn’t stop Trump from issuing his strong warning Wednesday.

Twitter’s use of a “fact check” label is not a violation of the First Amendment, said Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. The institute successfully sued in 2019 to prevent the president from blocking Twitter followers.

“It’s disturbing that the President misunderstands the First Amendment so fundamentally,” Jaffer said in a statement. “In fact, there would be no First Amendment issue with Twitter banning the president from the platform altogether. The First Amendment restricts only government actors; it doesn’t restrict Twitter or other social media platforms. The only First Amendment issue here arises from the president’s threat to punish Twitter in some way for fact-checking his statements.”

The First Amendment actually protects Twitter in this face-off, said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU. “The First Amendment significantly constrains any action the president could take to regulate social media platforms,” Ruane said in a statement. “The First Amendment also clearly prohibits the president from taking any action to stop Twitter from pointing out his blatant lies about voting by mail.”

This is not the first time Trump said he was looking at new regulations for tech giants.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, conservatives accused Facebook of censoring right-leaning voices.

Trump also accused Twitter of silencing conservative voices in July 2018. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said at the time that his company’s employees are “left-leaning” but said political ideology does not determine what appears on Twitter.

Back in August 2018, his top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Trump was considering new regulations on Google’s search engine to address his concern that it turns up too many stories that are critical of him. Trump said then that Google was “taking advantage” of people and also attacked Twitter and Facebook as unfair.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have long cast themselves as neutral purveyors of information, attempting to strike a balance between users freely expressing themselves and keeping hate, abuse and misinformation off their platforms.

Trump and his campaign lashed out Tuesday after Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed,” among other things.

The warning phrase reads, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” When clicked on, that opens a Twitter “moments” page that includes news stories and fact checks about Trump’s claims.

Twitter has said it would start using “labels and warning messages to provide additional explanations or clarifications in situations where the risks of harm associated with a Tweet are less severe but where people may still be confused or misled by the content.”

Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough told USA TODAY on Tuesday that the two tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots. This decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month.”

It was the first time Twitter labeled any of Trump’s posts as misleading, Rosborough said.

Some Trump allies, who have alleged bias on the part of tech companies, have questioned whether platforms like Twitter and Facebook should continue to enjoy liability protections as “platforms” under federal law – or be treated more like publishers, which could face lawsuits over content.

The protections have been credited with allowing the unfettered growth of the internet for more than two decades, but now some are advocating that social media companies face more scrutiny.

“Big tech gets a huge handout from the federal government,” Republican Sen. Josh Hawley told Fox News. “They get this special immunity, this special immunity from suits and from liability that’s worth billions of dollars to them every year. Why are they getting subsidized by federal taxpayers to censor conservatives, to censor people critical of China.”

Courtesy/Source: This article originally appeared on USA TODAY