What’s behind Trump’s attacks on social media?

What’s behind Trump’s attacks on social media?

This morning the AP, Bloomberg and many, many others are reporting on Trump’s threats against social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, in particular to “strongly regulate, or close them down” after Twitter meekly added a fact check link to an plainly false tweet that mail-in voting would lead to voter fraud.

Also this morning, #AllLivesMatter is trending on Twitter, the day after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police and protesters have taken to the streets in that city. Trump and other right-wing pundits still, somehow, claim that conservative voices are silenced on Twitter.

Trump probably didn’t plan his tirade against online platforms to coincide with this, but his threats come at the same time as both the EARN IT Act and USA FREEDOM Act reauthorization make their way through Congress, and we can’t ignore the connection.

As written about elsewhere on this site, the EARN IT Act would threaten the ability for social media sites, blogs and other online platforms to provide places for us, their users, to publish content.

The ability of platforms like Facebook, reddit, Twitter and so many others to provide places for us to create content hinges on a little-known law that’s under attack. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 simply says that the content you post online is your responsibility: you can be held liable for it, not the platform that you published it on. It makes sense – otherwise, every website with comments would have to moderate them or be held criminally responsible for their content. This wouldn’t apply just to the big platforms listed above.

“Oppose the EARN IT Act” on this site

If these companies don’t provide the US government backdoor access to their platforms – and our private messages – their Section 230 protections would be limited or removed entirely.

At the same time, the USA FREEDOM Act reauthorization has cleared almost all Congressional hurdles. The act effectively renews the PATRIOT Act, including permission for the federal government to continue spying on our emails, phone calls, text messages, web browsing and more.

Online censorship looks more like this: Last week, Tech for the People’s Facebook page got a notification that an article was found to be “partly false.” That article, from Vice, explains how the Senate voted down an amendment that would simply require the FBI to get a warrant to look at your web browsing history. It’s not false, and yet Facebook’s excuse for saying it’s “partly false” is a USA Today article which says, “The statement implies this was a vote to enable internet history access without a warrant. The government has actually been able to do that for nearly 20 years.”

Facebook’s fact checking partners have included the Atlantic Council, effectively a “who’s who” of NATO supporters, the white supremacist Daily Caller and others. The censorship situation on social media is bad enough. Progressive pages, anti-war pages, and alternative news sources like Venezuelanalysis, Telesur English and others have already had their pages taken down (and then mostly returned after mass pressure).

These private companies have no business regulating content – either on their own or at the behest of the racist, sexist, imperialist US government. Their motives for fact-checking only serve their desire for profit, a goal that typically overlaps with subservience to the national surveillance state. They don’t particularly care who is at the helm of that state.

The ills that many progressive people want the platforms to remove – fascism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and all bigotries – must be destroyed by the people. The struggle cannot rest in the hands of social media companies. Allowing that would have disastrous effects.