I have been enjoying watching Donald Trump tell the world on Twitter that Twitter itself is stifling free speech. The irony is delicious. Twitter struck back by ‘fact-checking’ some of Trump’s tweets. Now we all know that ‘fact-checking’ is a left-ideological tactic to discredit opponents.
Here is David Harsanyi:
I will always prefer open debate to the policing of speech. But if you’re going start engaging in targeted “factchecks,” the people targeted are inclined to push back.
Trump pushed back hard. Very hard.
US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order challenging the protection that stops social media companies from being held liable for content posted on their platforms.
Mr Trump made the move after Twitter applied fact check-links to two of his tweets earlier in the week.
Mr Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” made by Twitter and amounted to political activism. Such actions should cost social media companies protection from liability for what is posted on their platforms.
Well – you poke a bear with a stick, you can expect to get mauled.
To be clear – I think this is bad policy. Facebook and Twitter are not publishers and should not be considered to be publishers. But conservatives have long argued that they are, and should be regulated as such. From Trump’s perspective, however, this is very good politics.
What should be surprising, however, is that Twitter didn’t expect something like this to happen. It seems to me that they have not read where politics has been going over the past few years. It has been getting feral. Over the last while the principles that underpin liberal democracy have either been quietly strangled (sometimes not so quietly) or weaponised. This is a game everyone has been playing – although until Trump came along, a game the left have played better. The conservative right has been itching for an excuse to unleash the powers of the state against their enemies. Yes – people in politics no longer have opponents, they have enemies.
But maybe it isn’t surprising:
The “head of site integrity” at Twitter is a man named Yoel Roth. The Ivy League-educated Mr Roth has a PhD in communications so he must know his stuff. Not long ago he was quite an eager tweeter himself. Here’s the kind of stuff he used to write: “We fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason”, ” ‘Today on Meet The Press we’re speaking with Joseph Goebbels about the first 100 days’. Whatever I hear when Kellyanne [Conway, President Trump’s strategist] is on a news show”. There are many in similar vein.
More revealing than Mr Roth’s thoughts about politics is the way his team now “fact check” statements by the president. Among their primary sources for setting the record straight are news organisations such as CNN. You might not be familiar with the recent performance of CNN but it has become a standard bearer for the “resistance” to President Trump.
The culture war has now stepped up a notch. Several notches. What has been happening in Australia between the media (mostly News) and the platforms involving the ACCC is not culture war. That is just fighting over rents. What is happening in the US is culture war. It is going to be a bare knuckle fight between the US president – who rightly or wrongly feels unconstrained by liberal democratic norms of behaviour – and, at least, one social media platform.
Watching Trump pulverise lefties is very enjoyable, but there is going to be a lot of collateral damage – mostly to free speech and innovation in digital space. Last word to David Harsanyi:
Stripping Twitter and other social media of liability protections is likely to make them more inclined to censor speech, not permit it. Either these companies will have to pass a “neutrality” test imposed by the government, or they’ll simply take down as much controversial content as possible.
Trump, Biden, and Hawley all have varying reasons for wanting to compel social media to regulate speech. But whoever ends up obtaining and using the power, it’s the users who will ultimately lose.