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Tech Industry Chimes in on Trump's Social Media Executive Order

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Tech Industry Chimes in on Trump's Social Media Executive Order

2020-05-29 10:45:04

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Jack Dorsey Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons)

Donald Trump aimed to make an impact with the tech industry this week after his favorite outlet, Twitter, turned against him. He used his power to strike out against the social network, and some in the tech industry chimed in on what they thought of his executive order. Twitter did not. It made no comment about Donald Trump's big move, but CEO Jack Dorsey did defend the move to fact-check the president.

  • The president signed an executive order on Thursday that asks regulators to police social media companies to decide whether they should keep their protections provided under Section 230 that protects Internet companies from liability for what their users post.

This began when Trump tweeted a debunked conspiracy theory about an aide to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough in 2001 when he was still a Florida congressman. She turned up dead in the office, and while the medical examiner blamed it on hitting her head after falling because of a heart problem, Trump is all but calling Scarborough a murderer. The aide's family wants Twitter to remove the posts, but they refused. 

He also tweeted about mail-in ballots, saying there is "NO WAY" they would be "anything less than substantially fraudulent." Twitter, for the first time, didn't give him the free reign it usually does. It fact-checked him, telling his followers to "get the facts about mail-in ballots" and added links to articles that had challenged his ideas on the subject.

Trump said his executive order is intended to encourage free speech, but a Facebook spokesperson said it will have the opposite effect: "It will restrict more speech online, not less," said the spokesperson, adding, "By exposing companies to potential liability or everything that billions of people around the world say, this would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone." 

"Our platforms have empowered a wide range of people and organizations from across the political spectrum, giving them a voice and new ways to reach their audiences," said Google in a statement. The company added that Trump's order "would hurt America's economy and its global leadership on Internet freedom."

A Trump supporter in Silicon Valley, GSV Capital CEO Michael Moe, took his side. While he was an early investor in Twitter, he doesn't believe it should fact-check politicians. "I don't think Twitter should get in the business of being an umpire," he said. 

He also said if social media companies decide to be more like publishers, they should be regulated the same. "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck," he said.

Along with the others, tech lobbyists aren't behind Trump's executive order. The Internet Association said the order will undermine the government's efforts to protect the flow of information and "threatens the vibrancy of a core segment of our economy." 

Additionally, it remarked that the order "seems designed to punch a handful of companies for perceived slights and is inconsistent with the purpose and text of Section 230."

Fellow lobbying organization Incompas believes that by weakening Section 230, it will prevent people from promoting ideas and from creating new online business. "Social media is an American-made engine for economic growth and opportunity," Incompas said in a statement. "The executive order threatens to hurt innovators and small business on Main Street who depend on social media the most." 

Cameron Winklevoss knows something about going up against social networks. He and his brother sued Mark Zuckerberg for stealing the idea for Facebook. He sided with Trump here, naturally. " 'Fact checking' is a euphemism for editorializing, which is a form of censorship. And that's a fact," he tweeted.

"This is simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president," said the president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, Matt Schruers. The group represents Facebook, Google, and others in the industry. 

Twitter didn't comment on the executive order, but it has now added many fact-check labels to tweets from other people. This includes a tweet by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian. He had said U.S. troops must have spread the coronavirus in China.

Trump and his followers slammed the head of site integrity at Twitter, Yoel Roth. They connected his liberal tweets from his personal account to the company decisions to fact-check the president's mail-in ballot tweets. 

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, defended the decision to fact-check Trump and Roth. "Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that's me," he wrote on Twitter. "Please leave our employees out of this."

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