Like star-crossed enemies, the president and the platform that helped create him have entered into a new fight over how the social-media giant treats conservative users.
Thursday night, Twitter flagged a tweet in which Trump, talking about the protests in Minneapolis, said that “when the looting starts the shooting starts.” The tag, appended to the tweet, said it violated Twitters’ terms of service by “glorifying violence.” This was just days after the company tagged another Trump tweet with a fact-check linked to a CNN article. The White House used its separate Twitter account to send the looting Tweet again. And again, it got slapped with the “glorifying violence” tag.
Set aside the fact that the tweet doesn’t glorify violence but correctly asserts that looting often leads to violence, because that isn’t the real issue. The real issue is that while Twitter claims it is engaging in some systemwide effort to stem false or harmful information, it looks like it’s squarely targeting the president for political purposes.
Far be it from me to cast aspersions at Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, or @Jack, as he’s known, but when you look at some of the horrible tweets and false facts that bubble up on his brainchild daily, the obsession with Trump and conservatives looks fishy.
This is, after all, a platform that regularly features flat-out propaganda from brutal regimes like China and Iran, and allows the service to be used to crush dissent. But Donald Trump is the problem? Yet for progressives, like the Bay area techies at Twitter, he usually is.
Twitter’s censure of the commander in chief came on the day when he signed an executive order to regulate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields Twitter and other companies from liability for user comments. Trump’s argument, which echoes that laid out on this page by Sohrab Ahmari, is that by curating content, Twitter is acting like a publisher, not an impartial service provider.
The fact that Trump’s tweet was targeted — again, when you can’t throw a digital stone in the frantic hellscape that is Twitter without hitting insults, threats and falsehoods — raises serious concerns. What else to conclude but that this is blatant retaliation against the president, rather than a comprehensive effort to police the platform as a whole?
The well-documented evidence of just this kind of political bias is why we need to take a stronger look at Section 230 in the first place. The law was introduced in 1997, presumably out of fear that someone might jump on AOL and be a bit randy or post something problematic in their Dungeons and Dragons message board. It never contemplated the enormous role that social media would play in delivering and curating news and information to pretty much everyone on the planet.
In a plot twist, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Twitter’s older social-media sibling, took a swipe at @Jack, warning of the dangers of social-media firms fact-checking and over-policing their platforms. He’s right. And given that one of the executives charged with policing Twitter has a history of disparaging tweets about Trump and his voters, Zuckerberg’s warning is one that should be heeded.
In fairness to @Jack, he’s catching it from both sides. Some on the left, like the Guardian, have called for him to ban the president from Twitter. Clearly, this is much further than Twitter wants to go; that Trump’s tweets were only tagged is telling. Many conservatives, myself included, have stories about being temporarily banned from Twitter with no such warnings.
The battle over Section 230 will be long and complicated; it has its proponents and detractors on both sides of the political divide. But for now, @Jack should de-escalate the situation and stop his troops from interfering with the president’s Twitter feed.
Love them or hate them, Trump’s tweets are a central part of his presidency, and they are not dangerous. The best solution to this situation is for Twitter to stop targeting conservative Americans and their thoughts. If they are not capable of doing so, other serious measures must be considered.
David Marcus is The Federalist’s New York correspondent. Twitter: @BlueBoxDave