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Wed May 27, 2020, 02:22 PM

Trump, Twitter, And Free Speech

I found this on my Facebook page because I "Like" Techdirt.

I "Like" media who use social media to promote all kinds of discussion about free speech.

I also think it's in our future interests to support such platforms that make us to think through how to fight for our democratic freedoms. Doing that on these platforms, freedom fighters can win against the enemies of constitutional rights and freedom.

Last year and this year, the Russian 'doubt machine' theme was "just walk away." But this year, Americans have learned to stand their Internet ground long enough to identify and fight cyber insurgents, whether from Parscale or Putin.

(bolding below is mine)

Content moderation at scale is impossible to do well. But, also content moderation of a world leader spewing blatant conspiracy theories may be just as difficult, and that's not even at scale.

We're only partway through this week, and Donald Trump has already created a textbook's worth of content moderation questions to explore. It started with Trump going nuts with a bunch of tweets about a blatantly disproved conspiracy theory regarding a young staffer of TV host Joe Scarborough from back when he was in Congress. That staffer, Lori Klausutis, died from an undiagnosed heart condition years ago. The police and coroner found no evidence of foul play. And suddenly Trump, who used to appear on Scarborough's show back in the day, decided to spew a bunch of utter nonsense hinting strongly at the blatantly false idea that Scarborough had something to do with Klausutis' death.

This is straight out of the Trump playbook. It is blatant false news (the accusation he likes to make about anyone who reports accurately on his activities). It is insane conspiracy mongering. It is hurtful. It is hateful. It is potentially dangerous. And it serves Trump in two distinct ways: as a distraction from his ongoing cataclysmic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as part of his never-ending intimidation campaign against anyone in the media who dares to point out that the emperor has no clothes. As the Atlantic noted, this is malignant cruelty. It is disgusting.

Many people have been arguing that Twitter should shut down Trump's account or, at the very least, delete the tweets in question. Indeed, Klausutis' husband sent a deeply moving letter to Jack Dorsey begging him to remove the President's tweets:

I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life. There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life...

The letter was first published in a NY Times article by Kara Swisher in which she, too, backs the idea that the tweets should be deleted. Swisher's article is carefully argued -- and she notes that Twitter is facing a Gordian knot (though, not quite sure that's the right metaphor) with no good solution. She points out that kicking Trump off Twitter is a non-starter. As she says, it "would be pointless and too drastic," and (perhaps more importantly), "the firestorm it would set off would alone be disastrous for Twitter to manage." She also feels that labeling the tweets as false wouldn't do very much at all (more on that in a moment...) and concludes that the best of a bunch of not-good options is to delete the specific tweets. As she notes, it would be different if this was just about two public figures, like Scarborough and Trump...

I think that Swisher's analysis is thoughtful, but I come to a different conclusion. I think that deleting those tweets would set off a shit storm almost as big as closing Trump's account.

And to make that case, let's look no further than the second big content moderation case study that Trump has kicked off this week. Trump spewed some more of his usual nonsense, claiming that mail-in ballots would result in widespread voter fraud -- a laughable claim not supported by any of the data out there, including among states that already do universal mail-in ballots.

Given Twitter's policies regarding misinformation directly around elections, as well as its recently launched tools to label certain tweets as misleading, Twitter (for the first time with a Trump tweet, but not the first time using this feature) put an additional note on Trump's tweet that simply said "Get the facts about mail-in ballots" and linked to a Twitter Moments page detailing the facts regarding mail-in ballots.

This is a pro-free speech approach to handling these matters.
It's a "respond to bad speech with more speech" approach. Hell, even the notes on Trump's tweets were incredibly tame. I've seen other ones that directly claim that certain tweets are "misleading." The note on Trump's tweet didn't even say that -- it just said "get the facts" (indeed, I saw some people who thought the wording of the notification almost looked like it was in support of Trump's tweet.

And yet the crybaby in chief still threw a ridiculously stupid temper tantrum ...

This is ridiculous on many, many different levels. First off, and most importantly, adding more speech is literally the opposite of "stifling free speech." Second, all they're doing is providing an opinion and more information to a statement by the President -- which is itself quintessential protected free speech under the 1st Amendment. Third, because of that, there's nothing that the President can do about this, no matter how big a temper tantrum he throws. Fourth, the idea that providing factual information is "interfering with the election" seems to be an "I know you are but what am I" kind of childish taunt from the President...

Twitter is already held legally liable from content that they themselves publish. So if they added something to a tweet, they would be liable if that content violated any law. But they are not liable for moderation decisions and it would be totally counterproductive if they were.

Hell, if Rubio or others removed Twitter's Section 230 protections, it seems quite likely that Trump's tweets about Klausutis would be among the first removed, because without that protection, the site might face legal liability.

But all this brings us back around to the question of what Twitter should do in this situation. If merely adding a link to more information causes Trump and his cadre of yes-men to freak out to this level, imagine the insanity that would rain down on us if Twitter actually did delete one of his tweets. It seems highly unlikely that it would create a good outcome.

Everyone who already thinks Trump is a giant man-baby who shouldn't be anywhere near the halls of power wouldn't be any better off. But Trump and his fans would be able to play the victim, which is about the only role he seems able to play. There's no need to give him that martyrdom. It would just entrench the false belief that Twitter is targeting a particular political viewpoint, and do little to help anyone.

Again: there are no good answers here. Trump is spewing utter nonsense that is deliberately malicious and harmful to people. But he does remain the President. His comments won't disappear even if his tweets do. And the utter shit storm that would be unleashed by deleting those tweets would drown out whatever flicker of excitement it would create among Trump haters. It's a short-term feel-good move with massive long-term consequences.

Twitter should stand its ground here, even while recognizing that Trump is going to continue to work the refs to make sure more of his nonsense is left unimpeded. But taking down one of his tweets seems only likely to make things worse, not better.


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Reply Trump, Twitter, And Free Speech (Original post)
ancianita May 2020 OP
captain queeg May 2020 #1
ancianita May 2020 #2

Response to ancianita (Original post)

Wed May 27, 2020, 02:25 PM

1. Maybe trump should quit tweeting

And quit Fox News. He wants everyone to be nice to him all the time. Poor little snowflake.

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Response to captain queeg (Reply #1)

Wed May 27, 2020, 02:27 PM

2. Now THAT's the tack to take! Once HE gives up, there's no red meat for his base to get. And we win!

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