Trump at War With Social Media Bias

Trump at War With Social Media Bias

( – After Twitter unfairly censored President Donald Trump earlier this week and again early Friday morning, the president took the gloves off and is fighting back against suppression aimed squarely at him. For years, conservatives, and the president, have made claims about systematic bias against them by social media companies. By targeting their sights directly at Trump, Twitter may have started a war that could have been avoided.

What’s at the heart of the battle? Freedom of speech, privately-owned forums versus public squares, ethics, and political censorship. Every American ought to be concerned that private companies acting as public forums can determine what speech is politically acceptable. While it’s not government censorship, large companies with enormous powers can govern what is said on their platforms through their terms of service.

Sometimes what you don’t see is as important as what you do see. Facebook and Twitter have the ability to persuade people through suppression of speech or offer supposed “fact checks” potentially giving only one side of a story.

Some are asking how this is legal. For decades, large tech giant companies hid behind a law that grants them immunity. However, that law may no longer be totally applicable. While social media companies are private, there are also existing Supreme Court rulings that could have an enormous impact on Twitter, Facebook, and Google now that the legal battle is underway.

President Trump Acts

On Thursday afternoon, the White House released an executive order titled “Preventing Online Censorship.” Citing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the president said that private social media companies like Twitter resemble public squares where debate, political speech, and controversy used to thrive. The 1996 law sought to legally protect internet companies who provide a forum for their users, so long as the companies did not exert editorial control.

Americans no longer gather publicly to discuss the issues of the day. Instead, they congregate online on social media. Now that Twitter has censored the president’s free speech rights, it’s no longer acting as a forum for people to discuss freely. Instead, they are acting as a publisher.

Under the Communications Decency Act, companies that edit content lose their “forum” status and become “publishers.” As publishers with editorial control, they lose their immunity.

The executive order is Trump’s way of announcing that the government, and citizens, can now begin to hold Twitter liable for defamation or other negligence. The order directs the Department of Commerce (DOC) to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FEC) to oversee social media companies. The organizations will determine tech giants fail to exercise their power in “good faith” when they police content and take the necessary actions to protect free speech.

The order also directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to work with state attorneys general to look into complaints. Federal agencies are also directed to evaluate their advertising contracts with social media companies that engage in censorship.

Can Private Businesses Be Held Liable?

For years, we heard that private business could do whatever it wants. But, is that true?

In Marsh v Alabama (1946), the Supreme Court ruled that a private company was subject to freedom of speech. Justice Hugo Black wrote, “Ownership does not always mean absolute dominion. The more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by the statutory and constitutional rights of those who use it.”

It’s not clear at this point what the courts today will do and there will most certainly be lawsuits filed as a result of the executive order. But there is precedence. Critics of the social media giants have argued that The Communications Decency Act gives them too much power. By stripping them of their Section 230 protections, it appears Trump is serious about protecting everyone’s freedom of speech, even if you don’t like or agree with what is being said.

We are in uncharted waters and free speech in America is being tested in an unprecedented way.

Stay tuned as the story develops.

By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor

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