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War between Trump and Twitter: more than a symbolic battle?

Trump has been criticizing popular social media for years, which the president says are “too biased” and “disproportionately silence the right-wing conservative vote.” Tuesday flared, when Twitter labeled Trump tweets as “ potentially misleading. ”

On Friday, Twitter went a step further: for the first time, a Trump tweet is hidden behind a warning. “This tweet violates Twitter’s rules for glorifying violence,” the report said. Later, the same notification was applied to a copy of the tweet on the White House account.

President hostile to media

“When the looting starts, the shooting also starts,” Trump writes in the relevant tweet. The President thus addresses protesters and looters in the city of Minneapolis. Civilians took to the streets there en masse after black man George Floyd was violently killed by a white police officer.

“The president has been saying for years that conservative opinions are concealed, not only in the journalistic media, but also on social media,” said America correspondent Erik Mouthaan. “Research also shows the opposite. On Facebook, for example, conservative brands attract more visitors than traditional channels.”

Liability shield

Yet Trump reacted furiously on Twitter’s intervention on Wednesday. “The platform is now interfering in the presidential elections and is tarnishing freedom of expression,” the president wrote on Wednesday. “I, as president, will not let this happen,” Trump promised.

That promise was quickly fulfilled: Trump signed a presidential order on Thursday with which he wants to amend the US communication law. This is article 230 of the US communication law of 1996. That article does not make social media in the US liable for things that users post, according to Trump a ‘liability shield’. The president now wants to remove or at least tone down that shield.

New role for social media

When that happens, the role of social media changes from distributor to publisher. Social media then becomes legally responsible for potentially incorrect, hurtful or harmful messages on their platforms.

On the other hand, users could also complain if their messages are deleted; now social media is free to remove anything that goes against their self-defined conditions. That is where the shoe pinches the most: social media are an increasingly important place for debate, but they have their own rules of conduct.

‘Unworkable plan’

After a law change, social media would be complied with the communication law by the American regulator FCC (Federal Communications Commission), as it also happens with TV channels.

An unworkable plan, FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel tells The New York Times. “Social media can be frustrating, but an order making the FCC a presidential speech police is not the answer.”

Symbolic act

According to experts, Trump’s order has little chance of success in court. Stanford Law School lawyer Daphne Keller calls Trump’s order “95 percent political rhetoric and theater with no legal effect, and inconsistent with what courts have said.”

Moreover, the law has to go to Congress first. “Trump’s ‘decision’ is an indication by the President to investigate how to deal with the law. But the President cannot change the law, Congress should do that. It is therefore rather a symbolic act,” he said. correspondent Mouthaan.

“Shield” in favor of Trump

Trump himself benefits greatly from current legislation. “If platforms weren’t legally immune, they wouldn’t want to face the legal risk of placing Donald Trump’s lies, slander, and threats,” legal adviser Kate Ruane of the American Civil Liberties Union told The New York Times .

In addition, Trump cannot do without Twitter. “The President is addicted to Twitter. He knows that journalists and opinion makers are flocking to that medium, and he has been using it very cleverly to draw attention to his views since his campaign in 2016,” said Mouthaan.

Trump posted tweets this week suggesting that news presenter Joe Scarborough killed a staff member in 2001. Scarborough was not involved in that murder, and the staff member’s widower asked Twitter to remove Trump’s posts. Twitter refuses to do so – purely because of the so-called liability shield.

Series of lawsuits

If the shield disappears, social media can count on a series of lawsuits from people who want to have messages deleted, or to challenge deletion. The move could paralyze the functioning of social media: to prevent lawsuits, internet companies will be forced to monitor the content of messages much more strictly.

Twitter calls Trump’s order a “threat to freedom of expression and the freedom of the Internet.” “This presidential decree is reactionary and politicized,” writes Twitter. “The communication law protects innovation and freedom of expression and is based on our democratic values. Attempts to erode this are a threat to freedom of expression and internet freedom.”

“Supporters want to see Trump as a fighter”

Facebook is also against Trump’s order. “Repealing the communication law will backfire. It limits free speech online. By exposing companies to potential liability for everything billions of people around the world say, it would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial statements and encourage platforms to censor anything that could offend anyone, “said Facebook in a statement.

However, Trump’s commitment is clear, according to America correspondent Erik Mouthaan. “Trump would like his supporters to see him as a fighter who takes on the elite who decides what ‘we’ should think. It is hard to rage against the elite if you are the most powerful man on earth. So find the president to institutes that he can present as an enemy, “says Mouthaan.

In that respect, Twitter may well be playing the part of the US president with the stricter policy. “Trump can tell his fans that their opinion is gagged,” Mouthaan said.

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