From Dismissal to Outrage: Reaction To Trumps Anti-Twitter Order Swift

After Trump signed an executive order that attempts to kill Section 230, many have reacted in various ways. Regardless of variation, no one supports the move.

Two days ago, Twitter put fact-checking notices on two of the impeached US presidents tweets. The original tweets remain up and the notices simply say to get the facts about mail-in ballots. Trump, of course, went through a complete and total mental breakdown over this and openly mused about shutting down Twitter. Yesterday, Trump signed an executive order barring social media platforms from altering or removing content. At the centre of this is the threat of removing section 230 protections which protects platforms liability so long as they remove illegal content.

At the time, we pointed out that laws cannot be changed by executive order like that. Instead, it would require legislation from the house and senate in order for it to pass. Even if, by some miracle, Trump is successful in accomplishing this, nothing is stopping platforms from simply pulling out of the country altogether.

Today, Trump repeated his calls to kill section 230 in a follow-up Tweet:

If there was ever any doubt that Trump wants to well and truly kill Section 230 – a law that has allowed him to have a platform to spew his vileness in the first place – this should end all doubt.

The reaction to this latest effort has been quite swift. The opinions, of course, vary as you would expect, but the lack of support for this move is pretty universal as would be expected. Mike Masnick of opinion website TechDirt largely dismissed the executive order as nonsense and legally meaningless. From TechDirt:

To be clear: the executive order is nonsense. You can’t overrule the law by executive order, nor can you ignore the Constitution. This executive order attempts to do both. It’s also blatantly anti-free speech, anti-private property, pro-big government — which is only mildly amusing, given that Trump and his sycophantic followers like to insist they’re the opposite of all of those things. But also, because the executive order only has limited power, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing in there for very little actual things that the administration can do. It’s very much written in a way to make Trump’s fans think he’s done something to attack social media companies, but the deeper you dig, the more nothingness you find.

Masnick also said that this whole thing is also a distraction:

Anyway — this is all a distraction. The polls currently don’t look great for Trump and over 100,000 people are dead in large part due to Trump’s own mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. He doesn’t want people talking about this, so he does something performative like this instead. It does get people talking about it, and he knows full well that his ignorant base of sycophantic followers will eat this up in the false belief that it actually means something and will somehow “take away” Section 230. It doesn’t. It can’t. It’s nonsense.

Others have shared the observation that this whole thing is a distraction. Canadian Lawyer, Howard Knopf posted this on Twitter:

A so-called order by the so-called POTUS can’t possibly stop @Twitter
for calling out his lies. He’s lucky he hasn’t been deleted for lies, libel, etc. already, as anyone else would be. But this will be a small distraction from #TrumpDeathToll100K & #WorstPresidentEver @tribelaw

Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the executive order an assault on free speech. From the EFF:

President Trump’s Executive Order targeting social media companies is an assault on free expression online and a transparent attempt to retaliate against Twitter for its decision to curate (well, really just to fact-check) his posts and deter everyone else from taking similar steps. The good news is that, assuming the final order looks like the draft we reviewed on Wednesday, it won’t survive judicial scrutiny.

But even if the First Amendment were not implicated, the President cannot use an order to rewrite an act of Congress. In passing 230, Congress did not grant the Executive the ability to make rules for how the law should be interpreted or implemented. The order cannot abrogate power to the President that Congress has not given.

We should see this order in light of what prompted it: the President’s personal disagreement with Twitter’s decisions to curate his own tweets. Thus despite the order’s lofty praise for “free and open debate on the Internet,” this order is in no way based on a broader concern for freedom of speech and the press.

Indeed, this Administration has shown little regard, and much contempt, for freedom of speech and the press. We’re skeptical that the order will actually advance the ideals of freedom of speech or be justly implemented.

There are legitimate concerns about the current state of online expression, including how a handful of powerful platforms have centralized user speech to the detriment of competition in the market for online services and users’ privacy and free expression. But the order announced today doesn’t actually address those legitimate concerns and it isn’t the vehicle to fix those problems. Instead, it represents a heavy-handed attempt by the President to retaliate against an American company for not doing his bidding. It must be stopped.

Meanwhile, Canadian university law professor, Michael Geist, pointed out that this executive order might also be a violation of the USMCA – the very trade agreement brought about by Trump after he scrapped NAFTA in favour of the then-called NAFTA 2.0 trade agreement. From Geist’s tweet:

As Trump moves to sign an executive order targeting social media companies, worth remembering that the USMCA locks in the Section 230 statutory language and binds all parties, including the U.S.

Geist referred to article 19.17 in the USMCA (sometimes referred to as CUSMA in Canada) which reads (PDF):

Article 19.17: Interactive Computer Services

1. The Parties recognize the importance of the promotion of interactive computer services, including for small and medium-sized enterprises, as vital to the growth of digital trade.

2. To that end, other than as provided in paragraph 4, no Party shall adopt or maintain measures that treat a supplier or user of an interactive computer service as an information content provider in determining liability for harms related to information stored, processed, transmitted, distributed, or made available by the service, except to the extent the supplier or user has, in whole or in part, created, or developed the information.

3. No Party shall impose liability on a supplier or user of an interactive computer service on account of:

(a)any action voluntarily taken in good faith by the supplier or user to restrict access to or availability of material that is accessible or available through its supply or use of the interactive computer services and that the supplier or user considers to be harmful or objectionable; or

(b)any action taken to enable or make available the technical means that enable an information content provider or other persons to restrict access to material that it considers to be harmful or objectionable.

Meanwhile, Germany has opened its doors to Twitter in the event things become overly unfavourable by continuing to call the US home. From Reuters:

BERLIN (Reuters) – If U.S. President Donald Trump goes ahead with his threat to close Twitter, the micro-blogging site can always relocate to Germany.

“This is an invitation to move to Germany!” Thomas Jarzombek, Berlin’s point person for the startup economy, tweeted on Thursday.

“Here you are free to criticize the government as well as to fight fake news. We have a great startup and tech ecosystem, your company would be a perfect fit and I will open any doors for you!”

Some have reacted to this by suggesting that Twitter would never go to any place in Europe due to the GDPR laws. The thinking is that Twitter doesn’t respect privacy of users in the first place and compliance would be problematic if they moved operations to anywhere in the continent. The problem is that this thinking is actually dead wrong. This is because Twitter is already in compliance with GDPR laws and adjustments can be made to ensure further compliance can be made if need be.

For those asking what I’m talking about, as regular readers of this site might recall, back in April, Twitter made a change to users privacy controls. The ability to opt out of data collection and targeted advertising was removed from users settings except for those who live in Europe. That option still remains. At the time, the EFF called for stronger privacy laws to better protect users because the contrast in treatment between American and European users is quite obvious.

Given that such a feature still exists says at least two things: Twitter has the ability to have that feature apply to all and Twitter is already in compliance with GDPR laws today. So, if Twitter would face hurdles in the theoretical situation that they need to leave the US, GDPR laws isn’t one of them.

Meanwhile, the feud between Trump and Twitter, the feud that started all of this insanity in the first place, only stands to heat up. Today, Twitter has removed one of Trumps tweets for promoting violence. The tweet was in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. Because it was a white police officer killing another black man, and all of this was recorded, this has stirred racial tensions in the US again. In response, Trump, according to Twitter, glorified violence in a Tweet. The tweet from Trump:

These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!

In response, the tweet was hidden from Trumps main feed due to a violation of Twitter’s policy of tweets glorifying violence. In it’s place and above the direct link is the following message:

This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible. Learn more

In response, Trump issued another tweet with the following statement:

Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night – or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means….

….It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honor the memory of George Floyd!

It’s difficult to say if this latest Trump scandal will continue to boil over because, as always with Trump, he’s been going from one disaster to another. Today, Trump said that he is going to try to pull the US out of the World Health Organization. So, it’s possible that this assault on Twitter might actually fade away. With how unpredictable the US president is, you never know for sure where the wrecking of the US will go next.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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