Twitter To Trump: Challenge Accepted (Update)

Had @RealDonaldTrump not been president, would his Twitter account have been suspended? Possibly? Probably? But would it have been for his “conservative” message or the batshit crazy and often bizarrely false content? No matter. He is president, and as president, got a special pass because the things he twits matter in a different way.

This is a view into what the President of the United States publicly says, which has public value even when it’s false, dangerous or nuts. Indeed, it may be more valuable to see the crazy stuff so that we know what Trump is spewing. Whether it’s because he means it or he’s gaming the heads of the faithful or the outraged is a separate question. Whether he’s spewing something outrageous to divert attention from his failings is a separate question. That he’s the president, and this is what he’s twitting, is the point, and so who is Twitter to deny the American public from seeing what he’s twitting?

But it’s not that there isn’t a point to Trump’s Executive Order reinventing the statutory protections of 47 U.S.C. Β§ 230. What makes Twitter, or more precisely, whomever is making the actual call on behalf of a private entity, the arbiter of truth? The conflict is that private entities can make whatever call they want without government interference, but the point that Twitter, Facebook and Google have become the village square, and thus exert significant control over the information flow, is undeniable.

While the First Amendment precludes the government from dictating what expression is permissible, are Zuck and @Jack any more reliable sources of truth? This is a battle between constitutional law, statutory law, and reality in the trenches. Trump didn’t invent the problem, as it’s been recognized for a long time, and it’s hardly a conservative issue as Biden supports the evisceration of Section 230 and the fringe academics of fragility like Mary Anne Franks have been screaming for censorship of what they deem unworthy for years. That darn Section 230, the one that allowed the internet to thrive and the United States to be the center of the internet universe, also prevents the government, Trump at the moment, from challenging the hegemony of private companies performing quasi-governmental functions.

While Trump didn’t start this problem, has he brought it to a head by issuing an EO that pretty much everyone concedes is unlawful?

In the scheme of Stupid Trump Twits, this barely registers. It’s nothing compared to his insane Morning Joe murder accusations. And, putting aside the usual dumbness such as his having no control over the National Guard, what’s happening in Minneapolis is a legitimate issue of concern as it went from protest to rioting and looting, and then the seizure and burning of a police precinct.

But of all the Trump twits, this was the one where Twitter chose to make its stand. Does it “glorify violence”? It’s dumb, sure, though no more so than others, but it’s hard to see how it glorifies violence. Then again, it’s hard to see what standards, if any, Twitter purports to use to make any decision about anything. It’s not exactly clear in the sense of actual adult definitions, and its decisions haven’t exactly proven comprehensible much of the time.

Legally, Twitter wins, whether its “editorial” commentary is right or not, because it’s a private entity and entitled to be as wrong as it wants to be without the government telling it what to do. But even though Trump is probably the worst messenger possible, the message isn’t without some practical merit. Regardless of whether the EO will survive scrutiny, or have any serious impact on anything, it’s a shot across the bow of the internet.

Secretly, many who hate Trump won’t be unhappy that it happened. While they abhor the idea that Trump might get to dictate the content of expression on internet platforms, also love the idea that internet platforms can be brought under control. After all, when the next election comes, it will be their turn to control speech and they desperately desire control.

What would Twitter boss Jack Dorsey do? He could fire up his legal team. He could do nothing. He could suspend Trump’s account. Or he could add an editorial comment that Trump’s twit violated “Twitter Rules,” an oxymoron at best or perhaps a message in itself, that would further enrage Darth Cheeto. Or as some might see it, play into Trump’s hand. Maybe there’s method to his madness.

Is this a problem that can be resolved by legal analysis, by the pragmatics of an internet subject to governmental control that ends the hegemony of Social Media Titans or by the bloodshed in Minneapolis? Maybe this issue will be addressed by the courts, or by Congress if it finds the time, but maybe this is a street fight that’s been coming for a while and, Trump being Trump, has finally burst into the open.

Trump dropped the glove and Jack picked it up. Winter is coming.

Update:

23 thoughts on “Twitter To Trump: Challenge Accepted (Update)

  1. KP

    Seems Twitter has an entirely different view of what a Govt’s role is. I’d always heard they were responsible for law and order, there’s no glorifying of violence involved, if it takes violence that’s what they use.

    Its a pity we didn’t have Richard Nixon on Twitter in the same way, it makes a President so less boring…

    1. SHG Post author

      Congratulations for achieving Barleycorn incoherence. Your prize is that you’re no longer allowed to post the first comment.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Well I guess it is true, that your backpage readers could never really get around a forced reinterpretation joke* without drooling anyway. I never did take it personally πŸ˜‰

        Shuch a shame… But dont you worry esteemed the judiciary, Twitter and the wells are sooooon to merge and then all you have to do is start marketing bibs in the sidebar.**

        *”in a forced reinterpretation joke, if differing set-up interpretations are caused by linguistic ambiguity, then the punchline will cause discourse incoherence…”
        **I am expecting the initial bib line collection to arrive just as soon as my Wuhan factory is back to full line speed and something tells me, recuiting the models with the right catwalk for the runway will be pretty easy.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Like it was yesterday…

            Speaking of which… [Ed. Note: You were doing great up to there.]

  2. Tom

    Simple question. What do you call setting fire to a building not yours. Arson or protest.

  3. Black Bellamy

    In the NYT article with the link text “everyone concedes is unlawful?” not a single person concedes anything. And the Reason article “Twitter wins” doesn’t show Twitter winning anything. According to Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship, Section 4, Paragraph C, you have engaged in a deceptive practice where your public representation of the link text did not match my expectations, these being reasonable as I have information and belief that the link text on this quality site always matches the content linked to.

    [Ed. Note: Balance deleted because your off-topic chaos delusions reflect only that you have shit for brains and don’t get to air them out here.]

    1. SHG Post author

      When a quote follows, I use a link to show the source of the quote. Other times, the link is fully sufficient when the reader isn’t a moron, such as Eugene’s explanation of the law. If you don’t like the way I do it, you don’t have to read it, but I’m disinclined to write or change my evil ways for the sake of the stupidest person alive.

      1. Black Bellamy

        Off topic chaos delusions eh? I’m telling you the EO is pointed at Twitter via FTC deceptive practices enforcement instead of changing 230 and that’s somehow off-topic for a post that discusses that same EO and it’s so particularly off-topic it’s censored and replaced by an aggressive insult. Not just censored or deleted or branded off-topic. No, I have “shit for brains” with “delusions” and I am also apparently a member of the “stupidest person alive” subgroup.

        Perhaps you should continue your ruminations about the viability of this public blog where you censor posts and become hostile and personally insulting for arbitrary reasons to visitors who are just trying to share ideas and interact with other people on topics of common interest. Maybe you’ll come to some sort of resolution where people aren’t being called morons for violating rules that exist clearly in your head and nowhere else. I say this with confidence because as a prolific blog and forum poster, I’ve never encountered a level of frustration and anger from a host that I’ve seen here. Over my posting career I’ve had my logins banned, been IP blocked, had my posts deleted. But having my posts edited to include specific personal insults? That’s a first for me but apparently just another day for you now.

        Also, regarding your link text practices, that was like someone explaining chicken psychology after they hear a cross-the-road joke. Objectively I know I’m very funny, so when people miss the easy ones I get worried about their mental health. Get better soon! You and your blog.

        1. Kathleen Casey

          You have been banned, blocked, deleted, and now edited to include specific personal insults. Is it possible that it’s you and not the world? If you can be objective.

          1. Hunting Guy

            Saint Ambrose.

            β€œ God drove Cain out of his presence and sent him into exile far away from his native land, so that he passed from a life of human kindness to one which was more akin to the rude existence of a wild beast.β€œ

  4. Skink

    “In the scheme of Stupid Trump Twits, this barely registers.”

    True for the first, but the second?

    But skip the content: Trump loses this legal fight, every time. It troubles me that no one ever convinces him to shut up and lawyers write a clearly unlawful EO for him. Wouldn’t it be fun if someone actually told him they would not give air to the nonsense? Someone like Dorsey: “”we’ve banned Trump because he makes people stupider.” Dorsey need do nothing else. The initial impact of the EO is no government advertising. So what? If the other provisions are exercised, give those agencies involved the chance to tell Trump he’s being dopey before litigation begins.

    My legal advice would be to let the knife fight begin before litigation.

    1. SHG Post author

      I might have done exactly that if I was Jack, as it would have been amazing to watch Trump throw a clot, but I’m not.

  5. B. McLeod

    Trump’s God-of-the-Internet effort will likely fail. He seems to have no sense about choosing his battles. I’m not sure it will matter much in the long run. Discussion of Twitter’s political bias has been longstanding to the extent I have never used the platform. That bias is likely a factor in the subjective call illustrated here, where the Twitter abuse flaggers deem a threatened restoration of public order by force to be “glorifying violence.” Almost every Internet site or platform has a foot in one of the rival political camps. If the politicians were actually able to take control of them, the biases would simply be managed more directly (i.e., by the political actors themselves rather than their digital surrogates).

  6. Julia

    It’s really troubling that the social networks started to behave like an unlicensed medical authority by censoring medical content that is not to their liking. As I accidentally discovered, they also censor political campaigns and peaceful protests in the US. Perhaps, they can do whatever they like but they mislead users by not providing a disclaimer about the censorship. I switched to DuckDuckGo as Google search deteriorated into a version of Baidu.

    Trump can cause a more profound effect by leaving Twitter (perhaps, for a competitor or start his own blog) and inviting his followers to joint than issuing any executive orders. But will it ever happen?

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