Twitter recently began fact-checking Donald Trump’s tweets causing the President to become increasingly frustrated with corporate social media practices. He now claims that major social media companies are silencing conservative voices on their platforms and therefore, he will sign an executive order to review the law that has protected major social media companies from being held accountable for content published by their users.
This kerfuffle developed after the President tweeted a claim that mail-in voting would lead to voter fraud, a claim that has little factual basis. Twitter then tagged the tweet with a warning suggesting that the tweet should be fact-checked. Trump’s anger at the slight led him to threaten to either regulate social media or to shut it down all together.
Twitter’s Chief Executive Jack Dorsey responded to Trump’s criticism by saying that the warning was made because the tweet “may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot. Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.”
NetChoice President Steve DelBianco, a lobbyist for social media platforms, said, “The president is trampling the first amendment by threatening the fundamental free speech rights of social media platforms.”
This discussion goes straight to the First Amendment right to free speech in the Constitution. A person has the right to stand up in the town square and express his/her views (with limitations like yelling “fire” in a crowded arena). But if he/she sends a letter to the New York Times, the Times has a First Amendment right to edit it, comment on it or not publish it at all. It is their platform.
Social media claims to be a platform for free speech. They are a neutral town square where people can say whatever they want and the platform has no responsibility for what they say – whether hate or lie. As Mark Zuckerberg said yesterday in The Guardian, Facebook would not be the “arbiters of truth.”
The struggle that’s going on today is an attempt to find the level of responsibility for its content that rests with social platform itself.
Trump’s battle with social media is likely linked with his battle for a second term in office. Throughout the coming months, as the political temperature rises toward the election, what is said on social media will have a significant impact, for better or worse.