politics Trump

Donald Trump, Ostensible Republican, Says He May ‘Close Down’ America’s Social Media Platforms

Fact versus fiction.

Earlier this month, Donald Trump lashed out at the same social media platforms which helped him win the 2016 election, charging Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with being puppets of “the Radical Left”.

It was hardly the first time the president has attacked America’s most valuable companies, each of which affords Trump the opportunity to inject his patented brand of balderdash directly into the veins of the voting public whenever he chooses, which is generally all day, every day.

During a May 16, Saturday Twitter marathon, the president threatened to “remedy” what he called “this illegal situation”, and told supporters to “stay tuned and send names”.

Read more: Will Trump Gamble 20% Of The US Stock Market To Pursue Big Tech Grudge? ‘Stay Tuned!’

Fast forward a little more than a week, and Twitter refused to heed calls from a widower who asked Jack Dorsey to remove the president’s tweets suggesting the deceased was murdered by Joe Scarborough. That refusal itself sparked outrage and should have assuaged the president that, if anything, Twitter is loath to rein him in.

And yet, Twitter did take one step that amounted to a slap on the wrist for one of its most prolific and prominent users. The platform added an addendum to a pair of Trump’s tweets encouraging users to “get the facts”, after the president tweeted misleading information and unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting.

Trump was furious. He accused Twitter of stifling “free speech” and said, explicitly, that he “would not allow it”.

Twitter is, of course, a private company. Ostensibly, there isn’t anything Trump can do. Nobody has “the right” to use Twitter. Dorsey can boot anyone from the platform at any time for any reason, subject to very narrow constraints which would have to be adjudicated in the Supreme Court.

Fast forward to Wednesday, and Trump threatened to “close down” social media.

“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen”, Trump declared, adding that “we saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016”.

The irony is almost too much to bear.

Trump’s long-standing contention that these companies are engaged in a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing his administration flies in the face of the unanimous conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies that Russia utilized sophisticated social media campaigns to assist his bid for the Oval Office.

Trump’s allegations against Facebook seem even more dubious when you consider how adept his campaign is at wielding the platform to his advantage.

He then doubled down on his unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting, effectively daring Twitter to fact-check him again.

“We can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country”, he said. “It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots”.

He took it a step further, as he’s wont to do. “Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”

It’s alway the same story. Trump makes threats against private companies and his base has one of two reactions. The less fervent contingent says that Trump’s bombast aside, we are a nation of laws and Trump cannot “close down” private enterprise on a whim. The real acolytes simply champion the narrative and express support for whatever the president wants to do in terms of indulging his inner authoritarian.

The problem with the threats against social media is two-fold.

First, a crackdown on these companies has bipartisan support. Obviously, no one outside of Trump would suggest the government should “close down” Twitter by executive decree, but some Republicans harbor a similar grudge against the platforms for their perceived “biases”. Meanwhile, some Democrats want to break up big tech on antitrust grounds. As I’ve noted repeatedly, Trump would likely support the antitrust push, not because he cares about monopolies, but rather because he can wield the Justice department as a political weapon against the companies under the guise of antitrust investigations.

Second, these companies disproportionately shoulder the burden of the US equity market. I’ve used the following visual before, and I’ll likely use it again. Outside of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, there’s not much in the way of top- and bottom-line growth. This dynamic will be exacerbated in the post-COVID world.

In simple terms, this isn’t a good time for Trump to continually pile public pressure on these companies, especially when both the Justice department and state attorneys general appear poised to file suits against Google as soon as this summer.

With Amazon, the situation is even worse, as it involves the Post Office, which one assumes would have a role to play in mail-in ballots.

The whole thing is entirely pernicious and wildly inappropriate for reasons I certainly hope are apparent to all sane Americans, Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.

It is absolutely undesirable for the executive to threaten to “close down” private companies for, in this case, having the audacity to encourage their customers not to take demonstrable falsehoods at face value. What Twitter did is no different from what the makers of household disinfectants did last month, when at least one company issued a public statement imploring Americans not to ingest household cleaners after the president’s ill-advised, ad hoc musings during a coronavirus briefing.

This entire situation stems mostly from the right-wing echo chamber’s penchant for posting misinformation (at best) and provable lies (at worst) on social media, where millions of Americans get their news. When politicians amplify those lies, it erodes the democratic process.

This isn’t a partisan issue. It just is what it is. Everyone knows the president tweets falsehoods and everyone is equally apprised of the extent to which some of his most ardent supporters in the media and on Capitol Hill are similarly predisposed to trafficking in unproven conspiracy theories and just generally being careless with the facts. This applies to everything from voter fraud to climate change. It isn’t about “spin” or “interpretation” or “free speech” or “opinion”. It’s about fact versus fiction.

Now, the president is effectively saying that if he isn’t allowed to post unfounded allegations to 80 million people, he will use the office of the president to “strongly regulate” or “close down” Twitter and other social media platforms. Those are his verbatim words from a Wednesday morning tweet.

Those proposed “remedies” are precisely the kinds of tactics employed in Turkey, Iran and China.

Shareholders in General Motors, Harley-Davidson and plenty of other names hardly need to be reminded that their figurative and literal fortunes on some days wax and wane depending on the president’s tweets.

The excuse from the president’s backers on Capitol Hill and, more generally, from Republican voters who aren’t “the base” but who still support the president’s broader agenda, is always the same: “Well, he wouldn’t do that”. Or, “well, he can’t do that”.

But with William Barr at his side, the line between what Trump “can” and “can’t” do is increasingly blurry.

One would like to think there would be a moment of clarity for many voters if it ever came to a situation where the government actually moved to close down a social media company for fact-checking the president.

But I’m not wholly optimistic about that for one very simple reason: Many Americans can no longer separate fact from fiction.


 

25 comments on “Donald Trump, Ostensible Republican, Says He May ‘Close Down’ America’s Social Media Platforms

  1. The damage is already done once he intimidates people. The goal is not to shut them down but to affect, even in the smallest way, their behavior. The excuse he cannot do that is ignoring the power of the bully’s threats to change behavior. I think the reason some people are drawn to him is that they identify with him as they are a bully in their own right. To see the tactics, they employ in their own life, employed on a grander stage is to give them hope they have lived right all these years. However typically the stuff catches up to the bully and this bully will be no different. It will catch up and catch his children who have surfed in his wake for years.

  2. These social media platforms enjoy certain protections from lawsuits, while promising to act as a “platform” Maybe it is time that protection is removed.

    • They are private companies. Period. There’s no ambiguity here. It’s the same reason Alex Jones was booted. And Jacob Wohl. Etc. Twitter is a private company with its own set of rules. The term “platform” makes zero difference. They can ban people from participating whenever they deem it necessary to protect the interests of other users and their enjoyment of the site. And there isn’t anything anyone can do about that. It clearly states when you sign up that if you break the platform’s rules, you can be banned. By clicking “accept”, you have acquiesced to those terms. You have no say in the matter. That’s just all there is to it.

      • That is great. I don’t care, I don’t use the platform but I want to see them face Anti-trust scrutiny then. They are basically in-kind contributions to the Democratic campaign, they need to start reporting as such.

        • Except that Facebook and Twitter are arguably the single-most important campaign tool(s) that Donald Trump has. The contention that these platforms are “biased” against Trump is laughable considering how successful he is at leveraging them for votes. If you take away Twitter and Facebook, his campaign strategy would be upended overnight.

          • Stephen in Canada

            Quite correct Mr. H – “MrSomebody” sure isn’t a “MrWonderful” of any kind….

          • Cambridge Analytica’s stealing and misuse of FB data, along with Russia’s social media campaigns, probably made the difference when it came to electing Trump. He shouldn’t be biting the hand that feeds him.

  3. France bans hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 amid safety concerns….does anyone In their right mind believe that Trump took this drug? Just lies and distraction from the orange Oz.

    • Anonymous

      Hydroxychloroquine, commonly known as Plaquenil, is a commonly used drug for rheumatoid arthritis. He might have already been taking Plaquenil and just “spun” the facts.
      My mom takes Plaquenil and so far- she has not gotten Covid-19. It must work!!! Haha

    • Hydroxychloroquine, commonly known as Plaquenil, is a rheumatoid arthritis drug.
      Trump might have been taking Plaquenil, found out that it is hydroxychloroquine and pit a “spin” on the facts.

      My mom takes Plaquenil and when the story came out that hydroxychloroquine was the “miracle cure” there was a run on that drug at her local CVS. Doctors were prescribing it to themselves. To their credit, CVS only filled that prescription for existing patients. I do not know what the CVS policy is now.

      I agree with Ria. You can not make this stuff up.

    • yes, I do because Trump is not in his right mind. He is incredibly anti-science.

  4. You cannot make this stuff up

  5. The problem is that it is not as simple as saying social media companies are privately owned corporations and therefore, they have the right to police who is on their platforms and what those people can say. While it is undeniably true that these companies are private corporations, their products have become something akin to the public square and the spirit of “freedom of speech” legislation is that no entity should have the right to shut down public discourse (outside of some very narrow exceptions).

    In the past, the only entity that would be powerful enough to do so would be the government, because they could use their police powers to censor or shut down public discourse. However, with the advent of the internet and social media, the forum for public discourse has (mostly) migrated from the physical world to internet and that has given these private companies powers that previous were the domain only of the government. This is the root cause of much of the back and forth over “free speech”. While Twitter or Facebook silencing users on their platforms does not run afoul of any legislation protecting free speech, it clearly cuts against the intent of that legislation. This is even more outrageous because it is an unaccountable private entity exercising this power, rather than the democratically elected government.

    One way for social media companies to deal with this would be to take an openly editorial approach, where they curate the content available in the way traditional print publications do. However, they are loath to take this step because it would strip them of the pretense of being a common carrier, and the protection that affords them against responsibility for the content that is posted to their platforms. This is the reason for Twitter’s mealy mouthed approach to Trump’s tweets, they don’t want to take them down because that would be an exercise of editorial control, but at the same time they need to appease the very large number of people disgusted by said tweets.

    Ultimately, I think the social media companies are in an untenable position. They are either going to have to exercise editorial control over the content on their platform, thereby accepting responsibility for all of the content posted to their platforms, or else they will have to ignore the outrage generated by users that post content like Trump’s tweets. They appear to be going down the path of exercising editorial control, but only reluctantly. However, moving down this path is going to open them up to a lot more scrutiny about the content hosted on their platforms, while at the same time alienating large chunks of their userbase as a result of their editorial decisions (whatever they may be).

    • You can’t really claim that because a company has become ubiquitous, it’s now tantamount to a platform protected by the Constitution. In some cases (this one being an example) that effectively punishes success. Also, equating the removal of blatant lies with “editorial decisions” is a bit dubious in my opinion. Lies are just lies. They are almost always pernicious outside the realm of letting small children believe in Santa Claus and other magic.

      • I never made the argument that content posted to social media platforms was legally protected speech under the Constitution. Clearly, it isn’t. The point I made was that saying that these are private corporations and they can do what they want is overly simplistic. The people who created our legal framework never envisioned a situation where private corporations would be able to exercise broad powers of censorship over a large portion of the public discourse. Previously, only governments had the capability to do this, so it wasn’t something that was addressed.

        With regards to censoring lies, this is absolutely an exercise in editorial control. First, you’re making an editorial decision about what constitutes a lie. This quickly gets murky once you get outside of statements like 2+2=4. Then you’re making an editorial decision about which lies to censor. To use your example, I doubt that Facebook would want to start censoring posts relating to Santa Claus. However, in deciding which lies to censor and which ones are “okay”, they’re excising editorial control.

        What I am trying to point out is that much of the success of the social media companies’ success has been based on exploiting a loophole in our legal framework. They’ve positioned themselves more or less as common carriers or neutral platforms, and therefore unaccountable for the content that is posted to their platforms. This allowed them to grow quickly as platforms for the exchange of ideas, information, and content.

        Everybody was fine with that arrangement when it was all about sharing stupid cat photos, oversharing details of your personal life, posting photos of the family trip to Florida that nobody really cares about. It turns out, people are very much not okay with that arrangement when it comes to the dissemination of news or as a forum for political discourse.

        So now, the social media companies are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either tolerate the outrage that comes with hosting content people find objectionable or else start censoring content based on some decision-making process (i.e. exercise editorial control) that they put in place. If they do nothing, they’ll face increasing criticism over being a platform for disseminating content that many people objectionable. If they start exercising editorial control, then they are no longer a neutral platform just hosting content and they’ll face all kinds of criticism over those decisions. In addition, they will face criticism over the fact that a private corporation is exercising pseudo-governmental powers regulating the public discourse.

        • If I’m not mistaken, unlike a newspaper or a news broadcast, Facebook, Twitter, et al, can not be held libelous for content. It’s a complicated and slippery, legal slope. The world would be better off if it all went away.

          • So far, that has been the case, but the reason for that is that social media companies have (so far) successfully argued in court that they’re essentially common carriers or neutral platforms and therefore not responsible for the content they host. This is why, so far, they have been so reluctant to remove content (outside of things that clearly illegal).

            If they begin to remove content that they find merely objectionable (rather than outright illegal), then they are performing an editorial function, just traditional print and broadcast media companies do. Once they start doing that, they are in effect taking responsibility for all the content hosted on their platform.

            For them, this would be opening Pandora’s Box. It makes it basically impossible for them to argue in court that they are just a neutral platform for hosting content. They are (rightfully) worried that this will make them subject to the same laws and jurisprudence that apply to broadcast and print media. At which point, they will have to take a much more active role in editing and curating the content. This will both diminish their value proposition for users (they’re no longer an open platform for spreading information and ideas, but rather a platform for sharing information and ideas that the corporations find acceptable) as well as subject them to all kinds of scrutiny about how much power this grants them and how they wield it.

        • The fact is the social media platforms didn’t really do the positioning, Congress did. In order to keep from stifling the growth of the Internet, something they perceived as an important national asset, they passed legislation early on that said in effect that libel laws don’t apply to the Internet, effectively making it a wild west free-for-all. Say anything you want, anywhere you want, without consequence. We have already had various sites protected from liability in court, even when it could be argued that what somebody said on the site could be construed as causing the death of another individual. Interestingly enough, the SCOTUS has ruled that free speech is not really free in some contexts. Companies, governments, universities and others can discharge employees whose speech they don’t agree with. People who speak on the web can’t be sued for liable, but if they are someone’s employee the employer can fire that individual for speech they deem damaging to the company. Ironic, huh?

  6. What would Trump do, while sitting on his golden bathroom throne or laying around in his XXXL lounge ware, without Twitter. Laughable but Amazon should be broken up. Its retail division is a loss leader that has wreaked havoc in the retail sector and has cost tens of thousands of jobs and billions in loses. Let it stand on its own. And I’d be remiss in not hoping his children inhabit cells right down the cell block from his.

  7. Anonymous

    Twitter isn’t censoring Trump. It’s just doing what he does there every day. Just claiming false news.

  8. But if he closes FB and TWTR what will the Russian bots use to disseminate lies and help Trump win? He knows this, he won’t close anything, plus without Twitter the idiot may have to pretend working or go golfing more often to occupy his time (and risk criticism)

  9. Incidentally, it would help if Congress actually comes with a plan next time they decide to call these legendary geniuses up to Capitol Hill.

    I’m not a Zuckerberg fan, but I got a pretty good laugh out of it when he finally figured out that the best way to push back on Congress, was to simply call their bluff by saying “I agree. We need regulation. Now you just tell me how it will work, and I’ll implement it”.

    That’s not an exact quote, but that was the gist of the approach he ended up taking. To nobody’s surprise, it turns out Congress had no clue.

    • I’d start by
      – Requiring max efforts to block bots
      – Identifying country of each member (there’s ways to do this) and including in post
      – Limiting number of posts/day by a member
      – Limiting number of shares/retweets of a post

      Analogy to controlling a virus – testing, reducing speed of transmission, and suppressing R.

      The original purpose of Facebook – for people to keep in touch with their friends/family/social groups – doesn’t require bots, anonymity/false identity, virality, high volume posting.

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