Twitter has let President Trump use its platform for four years to expand his power and destabilize our systems and our people through lies and conspiracy bunk. All the while the company has been sitting on the sidelines and reveling as “Twitter” the brand has been smack dab in the center of daily high-level, even if ugly, politics. Apparently, CEO Jack Dorsey and its Board have been content being profiteers of lies and cruelty.
Of course, Twitter is not the only bad actor on this score. In response to Twitter taking small steps toward cleaning up the social media morass, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg continues to say that social media should not be the “arbiter of truth.” Well, you have a choice, Mr. Zuckerberg: do you want to be an arbiter of truth or a profiteer of lies? Right now, you are the latter.
On May 11, Twitter announced a new policy of warnings for “misleading information.”
They even supplied a handy chart:
Finally, Twitter Actually Pushes Back Against Some Trump Tweets
Then came the hideous attack on MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. I will not repeat the content, because it is “lower than a snake’s belly,” to quote my back hills of Kentucky grandfather. Scarborough’s co-anchor on Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski, demanded Twitter take down the baseless tweets. It didn’t, but suddenly Twitter grew something of a conscience and started doing mild “fact checks” of Trump’s most outrageous lies.
Amazingly, it also pushed back against Trump’s incitement to violence regarding the protests responding to George Floyd’s murder by a cop. Twitter added to the tweet a note saying that it violated its prohibition on glorifying violence and then, lo and behold, prevented others from liking or replying to it. Progress! (Don’t race to Oslo to lobby for Twitter to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, though—they didn’t take down the tweet and they allowed retweeting for those who would like to add a comment.)
The Trump Tweets Against Scarborough Are the Tip of the Twitter Cruelty Iceberg
The Scarborough example is a tiny portion of the way in which Twitter profits from the cruelty of others. As I wrote in a recent CHILD USA blog post, Twitter has empowered celebrities accused of sex assault to attack victims (and whistleblowers).
Victims accusing Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter have suffered terribly on Twitter for coming forward. Actor Corey Feldman has been under attack for doing a documentary entitled “My Truth” about the Hollywood web of child predators. They have asked Twitter repeatedly to have the incendiary and ugly attacks stop, and Twitter has essentially yawned. Twitter, therefore, has become complicit in the life-destroying attacks of a dark web army carrying online arms for alleged rapists. At the very least, we must empower these victims to be able to sue those who destroy their reputations and peace of mind on social media in response to the survivors bravely taking the #MeToo invitation to speak truth to power about their sex assault. It’s time for the defamation laws to cease operating as a wall of protection for sexual perpetrators, as I have recommended repeatedly including here.
In effect, Twitter has become a major platform to stop the #MeToo movement in its tracks. Especially if you have no access to justice, why would you name names just so you can be viciously attacked online? The social media mavens have fought hard to avoid liability for the harm they propagate and lawmakers have acted as co-dependents. At the least, empower the victims of sex abuse and assault against their attacking perpetrators and the social media industry profiting from their misery.
Legal reform is needed now, but it’s not what Trump is suggesting.
Trump Tries to Use His Executive Power Against the Social Media that Made Him
Now Trump threatens to put restrictions on social media in retaliation for Twitter’s mild truth-checking of him. That would be bad for the country and horrible for the victims of violence re-victimized online. And, once again, Trump simply doesn’t “get” the Constitution.
Here is what he said about his latest executive order: “We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history, frankly. . . . A small handful of powerful social media monopolies control the vast portion of all private and public communications in the United States.”
To point out the obvious, the social media companies are private actors. Could someone in the White House please inform the President that the freedom of speech is freedom from government suppression of speech? Private actors are protected from the government—not the other way around. Social media is not the government, but rather a collection of private actors who are not the actual target of the First Amendment. You see, that’s why they can curtail their own content without constitutional injury.
Thus, Trump is wrong about the “freedom of speech,” and Zuckerberg and Dorsey have been flattering themselves if they think they are architects of it. Far from it, they are capitalists making profits, who instead have a moral obligation to curtail the worst excesses they propagate.
In contrast, were the government to regulate social media by content as Trump suggests, that would kickstart First Amendment relevance. So, Mr. Trump, you seem to have a problem with knowing where constitutional barriers are, as I pointed out in a different context here.
The ball is in the social media court: It’s time for you to engage in meaningful self-regulation that would keep the worst lies, conspiracy theories, and bullying off your platforms.