It’s finally happened.
President Trump has finally issued the Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship. This hasn’t come a moment too soon and by the looks of this very detailed document, Trump’s had it ready in his desk for some time. All he had to do was wait patiently for someone to cock up massively like Twitter just did.
At this early stage it’s not clear whether the social media giants will respond by feigning shock and ignorance, loudly protesting their innocence or just carrying on like nothing’s actually happened. None of those responses would surprise me but if I had to guess, I’d say they’ll just carry on, while maybe announcing some kind of internal review which is far too little and way too late. Nobody would believe the findings of such an enquiry anyway. Not now.
Whilst this isn’t an actual change in the law, the executive order does explicitly state what everyone in the world, and his dog, has known for many years; namely that the tech giants have been wantonly abusing Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act with impunity for decades. Worse than that, they’ve been using the legal protections of Section 230(c) to censor law abiding platform users for no good reason other than their will to dominate discourse and control information.
“Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to grow into titans controlling vital avenues for our national discourse under the guise of promoting open forums for debate, and then to provide those behemoths blanket immunity when they use their power to censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike.”
The egregious and ongoing campaign of political manipulation on platforms like Twitter is so well documented that there’s no reason to labour the point here, but if anyone’s interested, Kayleigh McEnany provided a useful little snapshot when announcing the order. Senator Ted Cruz’s evisceration of Google is also instructive for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
It’s tempting to see Twitter’s outright (and highly suspect) editorialising of Trump’s recent tweet as a sign of the tech giants’ great strength, but in reality it shows how desperately worried they really are. Donald Trump has done to them what he does best, dragging them out of the shadows and into the light of public scrutiny. This totally unforced error by Twitter has pushed the relatively obscure subject of tech censorship right to the centre of the public consciousness and Trump will make sure it stays there throughout the 2020 campaign. That will suit him just fine.
How will the likes of Twitter and Facebook respond to Trump’s daring move? They can hardly whine about the same political interference they themselves have been practicing for many years now, although I doubt that a double helping of hypocrisy will keep them awake at night. Personally speaking, I’m looking forward to the rhetorical gymnastics as they try to do exactly that.
Although it’s not clear how any of this will work out in the long run, it is clear that President Trump has just opened a major new front in the worldwide populist revolt. In fact, this could be be most important and far reaching battle he fights as President.
The tech sector has been warned repeatedly to clean up its act and it’s wilfully failed to do so. Now the masters of the universe must face the consequences of their decisions and learn the painful lesson that they’re not actually twice as smart as everyone else. If they were, they would never have let themselves be cornered by orange Dorito Drumpfler in the first place.