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Trump readies order to limit social media cos’ protections

May 29, 2020 05:38 AM

COURTESY TOI  MAY 29

Trump readies order to limit social media cos’ protections
Chidanand.Rajghatta@timesgroup.com

Washington:

Accusing social media giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google of an “anti-conservative bias”, US President Donald Trump is set to sign an executive order on Thursday aimed at regulating online platforms and taking away some of the legal protections they enjoy.


“This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning on the very platform he himself uses vigorously to dispense news, views, propaganda, inflammatory rumours, and conspiracy theories, and which implicitly and mildly reprimanded him on Tuesday with a fact-check mark against one of his posts.

Enraged by the smackdown, Trump is now taking the battle to Silicon Valley — where major social media companies are based — which has long been seen as a liberal bastion. Under the order, the draft of which was widely circulated ahead of Trump’s signing, the commerce department would ask the Federal Communications Commission for new regulations clarifying when a company’s conduct might violate the good faith provisions of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which states that: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

The section effectively allows online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to curate content and protects them against a range of laws that may otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others post or say on the medium. The order also directs the Federal Trade Commission to report on complaints of political bias and to consider bringing lawsuits against companies accused of violating the administration’s interpretation of Section 230.

It also bans federal agencies from advertising on platforms that violate Section 230’s goodfaith principles. “In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online,” the draft order says. “This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.”

The draft order also implicitly charges social media platforms of being anti-national, faulting Twitter for spreading Chinese propaganda, Facebook for profiting from Chinese advertising, and Google for helping the Chinese government surveil its citizens.

It is not clear how effective the executive order would be, considering the FCC, which is led by Indian-American Ajit Pai, and FTC, one of whose five commissioners is Indian-American Rohit Chopra, are independent agencies. Google too is led by Indian-American Sundar Pichai, and Twitter and Facebook has several Indian-Americans among its executives.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey meanwhile stood by his decision to fact-check Trump, even as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg parted ways on the issue, saying he would not have done so, inviting a backlash from liberals on social media. “I don’t think that Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth I think that's kind of a dangerous line to get down to in terms of deciding what is true and what isn’t,” Zuckerberg told CNBC.

 

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