Mirror Online: UK – US President Donald Trump was expected to sign an executive order on social media companies on Thursday threatening to expose them to government investigations into allegations of bias and potentially more lawsuits.
It comes after Twitter slapped two of the President’s tweets with a ‘fact check’ on Tuesday and Trump hit back by saying he would regulate and even shut down the Silicon Valley giants if they are shown to be biased.
Trump was expected to set up a mechanism allowing Americans to report alleged political censorship or bias by the social media giants which will be investigated by the Federal Trade Commission.
His executive order is also expected to order a review of a law that has long protected Twitter, Facebook and Google from being responsible for the material posted by their users.
Trump’s order would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to propose and clarify regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law largely exempting online platforms from legal liability for users’ posts.
It also requires the agency to look at whether a social media platform uses deceptive policies to moderate content and if its policies are inconsistent with its terms of service.
The draft order would also set up a a tool for Americans to report examples of bias or censorship by social media giants.
The White House tech bias reporting tool will collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The claim came after Twitter, one of his favorite mediums for communicating with the American people, labeled two of his tweets about mail-in ballots as “misleading”.
The FTC will then be required to ‘consider taking action’, examine whether complaints violate the law, draw up a report describing such complaints and make the report publicly available.
The White House launched a similar tool last year but it is now closed. It is unclear what happened to the responses people sent it.
Anti-conservative bias claims on social media
Facebook internal report admitted bias…and last year opened itself to an independent investigation of anti-conservative bias after repeated criticism from Trump.
The audit, carried out by former Republican Senator Jon Kyl and others, found that the tech giant was still some way off eliminating its bias.
It concluded that Facebook’s efforts to counter fake news had silenced conservative voices. One example, was that fact-checking sites used by the social media giant were inherently left-leaning.
In addition, it found that Facebook’s ads policy could have restricted anti-abortion advocacy.
Kyl’s report said: “Facebook has recognized the importance of our assessment and has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered. But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives.”
Don Jr claimed to be hit by “Shadow banning”.
A series of high-profile pro-Trump figures have claimed that Twitter and Instagram have made it harder to find their accounts or individual posts.
Among those making the claim have been Donald Trump Jr and Mark Meadows, at the time a congressman and now Trump’s White House chief of staff, and Jim Jordan, a prominent Trump defender.
Trump Jr made the claim in his book, ‘Triggered’.
Twitter has denied that it was involved in such a practice but did update its algorithm when the controversy erupted in July 2016. Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – has said it does not alter the prominence of posts for political reasons.
It comes as a federal appeals court this week upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that accused Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants of conspiring to stifle the political views of far-right activist, Laura Loomer, and a conservative nonprofit, Freedom Watch.
The draft order also requires the attorney general to establish a working group including state attorneys general that will examine the enforcement of state laws that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair and deceptive acts.
Section 230 of the 1996 law is a shield against social media networks being sued for what people post on their platforms.
It says: “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.”
It also says that: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
A publisher or speaker can normally be sued for defamation for the contents of their speech but by not being categorized as those, any attempt to sue social media giants for what is written on them falls at the first hurdle.
The 1996 statute has allowed Silicon Valley to make billions of dollars from their users’ posts, photos and videos, with minimal legal liability, while giving them freedom to remove anything they see as objectionable.
When it was written social media did not exist.
Since its explosive growth, platforms including Twitter and Facebook have changed repeatedly.
Their algorithms decide the order in which users see new posts, and can be used to make particular content more or less visible.
That has led critics to say that they are behaving as publishers – deciding what people read or see – and not simply as forums.
The rest of the act gives forums powers to set standards for content, which social media platforms have used as a basis for moderating content and to justify the existence of algorithms.
Conservatives – and many others outside mainstream thought on matters like history, climate change and even the coronavirus – have criticized the use of Section 230 claiming big tech has censored content without being subject to scrutiny.
There is however zero possibility of a Democratic House passing reforms to the law itself.
That leaves Trump trying to use the powers of the executive branch.
Trump had claimed Wednesday in a Twitter thread that conservatives are being silenced and disproportionately regulated on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook as Twitter issued ‘misleading’ warning labels on two of his tweets about mail-in voting on Tuesday.
“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen,’ the president posted to his Twitter Wednesday morning.
“We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that happen again.”
The warning was issued after Trump reacted with fury to having two of his tweets labelled as misleading, with links to news articles suggesting they were false attached.
Responding to the “fact-checking” Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale said: “We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters.
“Partnering with the biased fake news media “fact checkers” is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility. There are many reasons the Trump campaign pulled all our advertising from Twitter months ago, and their clear political bias is one of them.”
In contrast, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey refused to take down the president’s tweets where he touted a debunked conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was involved in the death of a staffer when he was a Republican Us congressman from Florida.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg meanwhile criticized his competitor and said it was not the place of private companies to interfere in what people say online.
Speaking to Fox News, Zuckerberg said: ‘We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this … I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.
“Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Twitter users, including some Republicans, did not react kindly to the president suggesting increased regulations on social media websites.
Michael Pachter, research analyst at investment firm Wedbush Securities, told Fox Business: “Twitter came up with a rule that applies to one person …
“They’re not treating (Trump) the way they treat everybody else. They came up with a separate set of rules just for him, which is fact-checking, because they’re too afraid of his bullying to delete the tweet or suspend him.”
Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are under a series of probes into allegations that the tech behemoths use their clout to unfairly defend their market share, including one by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.
The Justice Department is believed to be looking at all four companies while the Federal Trade Commission is probing Facebook and Amazon.
Dozens of state attorneys general, led by New York, are also investigating Facebook.
Earlier this month it was reported a group of state attorneys in Texas were likely to file an antitrust lawsuit against Google.
Once seen as the darlings of Washington, Silicon Valley firms have become targets for politicians of all stripes.
US regulators recently imposed a record $5 billion fine on Facebook for lapses in privacy and data protection, including the leaking of private data for political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
Tech firms and their backers deny monopolistic conduct and argue the fast-evolving digital economy has robust competition and has led to lower prices and more choice for consumers.
But there is growing concern that slapping fines on companies that make hundreds of billions of dollars has done little to curb their powers.