Yesterday President Trump unloaded a string of attacks on social media companies in response to Twitter issuing its first-ever fact-check on one of his tweets. That tweet by the president claimed, “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.”
Besides lashing out at Twitter, Trump threatened to close down social media companies, or to regulate them, due to what he alleges to be conservative bias on the platforms. But any real salvo by Trump may be limited to an executive order, which the president is expected to announce today. As for what teeth that executive order has, well, that remains to be seen.
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. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
However, since Trump’s Twitter fact-check feud began, Twitter’s stock has plummeted more than 6% from yesterday morning (as of pre-market trading today at the time of this writing). Perhaps it’s little surprise then that the CEO of the president’s distant-second-favorite social media platform, Facebook, has rushed to state that he is siding with Trump in this feud.
As The New York Post reports, Mark Zuckerberg gave an interview last night to Fox News, which will air today, in which Zuckerberg said social media companies shouldn’t be the “arbiters of truth.” As Zuckerberg told Fox News:
We have a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this . . . I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. In general, private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.
Shortly after news of Zuckerberg’s comments broke, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey shot back, tweeting that Twitter’s labeling Trump’s tweets as false “does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth.’ Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”
This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
But social media taking sides aside, could Trump really issue an executive order that would be an existential threat to Twitter? As Karen North, a professor of social media at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, told USAToday: “Presidents can do anything. But there are checks and balances, and whatever he signs is likely to be challenged by Congress and the courts.”
But one possibility is instead of trying to force his will via an edict, the president could start pushing for changes to the Communications Decency Act. That act is the reason why platforms can’t be sued for content their users post. If Trump wants to cause headaches for social media platforms, a push to change those protections social media companies currently enjoy could go a long way.