Trump Threatens Twitter and Other Social Media Platforms After Being Fact-Checked

Sourced from Politico.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to regulate or even “close down” social media platforms in a series of tweets over the last day on Twitter. This comes after Twitter added a fact-check label to some of his posts. The labels entail that particular tweets contained misleading information.

The president (ironically) tweeted that republicans feel that social media platforms such as Twitter are trying to censor their political views.

He then warned, “Big action [is] to follow!”

CNN Business writes that the options at Trump’s disposal are limited. The president could push for new legislation, or he could pressure US regulators to sue the companies in question. However, none of his options are guaranteed to accomplish what the president is threatening to do.

The most “obvious” course of action would be for Trump to seek changes to the US’s Communications Decency Act, which shields tech platforms from legal liability for a wide range of online content, according to Andrew Schwartzman, senior counsellor at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society.

There has been an ongoing push, led by the Justice Department and Republicans in Congress, to do just that. But changing the law would require building broad consensus in a deadlocked Congress, where Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on anything.

The Trump administration could not go it alone. And a new law that specifies how tech companies must police their platforms could raise questions about the law’s constitutionality.

“This is just another example of Trump thinking that the Constitution makes him a king, but it doesn’t,” says David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor and former senior Federal Trade Commission official.

Trump could also pressure agencies like the consumer protection watchdog FTC and the Federal Communications Commission to take action against social media companies. However, these agencies have previously resisted efforts by the White House to transform them into judges of political speech.

And though the FCC regulates phone and broadcast infrastructure, it lacks jurisdiction over Twitter and Facebook.

“I do think although [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai has a good relationship with the president, and they have partnered on some things, I think he is still maintaining his independence,” adds one telecom industry official, speaking to CNN from his experience interacting regularly with the agency.

Trump could also try to appoint allies to the FTC who might be willing to launch still more probes into the social media companies, experts say, but the laws governing independent bodies such as the FTC make them harder to politicise than a cabinet agency such as the Justice Department. The FTC is composed of five commissioners who serve staggered terms, and their decisions are also subject to judicial review.

Unlike the FTC, the US Justice Department is led by one person, Attorney General William Barr, making it the most likely tool for going after the social media platforms, several experts say. The Justice Department is currently conducting a wide-ranging review of the tech industry, as well as a specific antitrust investigation of Google. The agency is widely expected to wrap up its tech review soon.

Like President Trump, Barr has also alluded to complaints of anti-conservative bias on social media on several occasions. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump has considered establishing a White House commission to study allegations of conservative bias. But that only underscores the limits of Trump’s direct influence on the matter.

Despite limitations in terms of threats against social media companies, problems with the White House may have taken part in the shares dip of both Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday, a day when the overall market was up.

Edited by Luis Monzon

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