Trump Twitter Wars Both Bad and Good

The Twitter bird symbol with its head replaced with Donald Trump’s head

The Twitter bird symbol with its head replaced with Donald Trump’s head
There’s no doubt about it. Donald Trump tweets some nasty things about people. He also uses Twitter to fire people and fire up people. He gives dangerous medical advice via Twitter, and he tweets about his imagined superiority on an almost daily basis. Trump uses Twitter a lot. In fact, he was the first presidential candidate and is the first president to use that platform as his primary source of communication with the public. The problem is that nearly everything Trump tweets is either untrue or inflammatory. He did not have the largest crowd in inaugural history. Clorox is not safe to inject or ingest. He does not hire the best people. Obama was not born overseas and he did not wiretap Trump’s office. And, we have not defeated either ISIS or COVID-19. Independent fact-checking sources tell us that since taking office, Donald Trump has told in excess of 15,000 lies, many of them having been communicated via Twitter. Sadly, we have become almost normalized to the effects of those lies, some of which have even glorified violence, and Twitter has done nothing to keep us from being infected by them, until now, that is.

Last week, protests and riots broke out across the nation following an incident in which Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis cop, killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man. Trump implied in a tweet that the protestors (aka,“thugs”) should be shot. Earlier that same week, the President tweeted that MSNBC host and former congressman Joe Scarborough should be investigated for the murder of a woman who worked in Scarborough’s congressional office. In fact, the woman in question, 28-year-old Lori Klausutis, died from a fall, caused by a heart condition. But Trump isn’t the kind of person to let the facts get in the way of a good story. This wasn’t the first time he had alluded to a murder plot, and he was in the process of doubling down on that heinous rumor when the Minneapolis incident occurred. Twitter stepped in and began posting disclaimers in conjunction with the President’s tweets. Angered by what he considered to be bias and censorship, the President issued an executive order directing the FCC and FTC to study the viability of imposing new regulations on social media companies.

At first glance, Trump’s order seemed dangerously totalitarian, but this particular knee-jerk reaction may actually result in some much-needed legislation. Radio and television broadcasters, for example, are licensed and regulated by the federal government. If a TV station refuses to meet the needs of a particular group of viewers, or violates community standards, or if an anchorperson spews a bunch of expletives on air, then that TV station could incur a hefty fine and even lose its license. Twitter, Facebook and other similar companies, however, are not regulated. They are protected by Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which recognizes them as platforms rather than publishers. Thus, social media giants can’t be sued or fined, or shut down. For years now, I have called on Congress and the FCC to regulate Twitter and Facebook the same way they do broadcasters, but our elected officials don’t seem inclined to initiate such a change. Too bad, because too many people have been hurt emotionally and financially by malicious and false statements posted on social media. Take for instance the case of Lori Drew, who set up a MySpace account under a false name, with the express purpose of sending libelous and harassing messages to a 13-year-old neighbor girl. The girl subsequently committed suicide.

I don’t know how Trump’s executive order will play out, but if it leads to legislation which regulates and punishes social media companies, and convicts customers who abuse those platforms, then the President’s seemingly totalitarian action may end up being the best thing to happen to the internet since Al Gore says he invented it.

 
 

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