Since the White House is convinced social media companies are kicking conservatives off left and (mostly) right, it has decided to do something about it. What this “something” is remains about as vague as the accusations.
Once you remove a handful of grifters and Nazi fans from the list, you’re left with not that much to get upset about. But the few who fervently believe this is happening make a lot of noise and have the ears of powerful people, so stuff — vague stuff — is being set in motion while the First Amendment is set aside.
A leaked copy of what was supposedly a draft executive order on social media bias appeared late last year. If the leak was legitimate, the White House’s proposal would not have been Constitutional. It would have used the pretense of bias to allow the federal government to directly regulate speech on social media platforms. Here’s Mike Masnick’s take on the draft order:
Basically, the order would task the White House with “investigating” social media platforms for bias and then seek to use antitrust actions (or pass it off to the DOJ or FTC) to punish companies that show loosely defined “bias.” The document takes as default that any kind of “bias” on major internet platforms should be taken as anti-competitive (which seems incredibly questionable) and then also requires that various agencies give the President a report on how to “address” social media bias.
How anyone can stretch “bias” into something deserving the DOJ’s antitrust attention is beyond me, but this is similar to assertions made in several lawsuits filed against social media platforms by peeved far-right personalities.
The terrible idea appears to be back on the table after (nearly) a yearlong hiatus. Margaret Harding McGill and Daniel Lippman report for Politico that a handful of unidentified White House personnel have seen a new draft executive order being crafted to tackle social media bias.
The White House is circulating drafts of a proposed executive order that would address allegations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies, according to a White House official and two other people familiar with the matter — a month after President Donald Trump pledged to explore “all regulatory and legislative solutions” on the issue.
None of the three would describe the contents of the order, which one person cautioned has already taken many different forms and remains in flux.
Again, the draft is still a draft and no verifiable copies have been released. But this does indicate the White House still wants to take action against social media platforms for their moderation efforts. What’s a bit more chilling — when you consider the voices behind these statements and where they currently reside — is the comments made by these officials about social media moderation.
“If the internet is going to be presented as this egalitarian platform and most of Twitter is liberal cesspools of venom, then at least the president wants some fairness in the system,” the White House official said. “But look, we also think that social media plays a vital role. They have a vital role and an increasing responsibility to the culture that has helped make them so profitable and so prominent.”
“Us vs. them,” in other words. The White House views social media platforms as the enemy, which puts them on a long, long list of First Amendment-adjacent entities the President doesn’t seem to care for. I guess the goal is to force platforms to become “conservative cesspools of venom” as well, aligning them with the Gabs and Voats of the world.
Another unnamed White House official feels this executive order would dovetail nicely into the President’s recent demands that social media companies branch out into pre-crime to prevent mass shootings.
“They have a role, if not a responsibility, to monitor the content on their sites to ensure that people aren’t threatened with violence or worse, and at the same time to provide a platform that protects and cherishes freedom and free speech, but at the same time does not allow it to descend into a platform for hate,” the first White House official said when asked about the draft executive order.
It’s going to be extremely difficult to “cherish free speech” and prevent sites from “descending into platforms for hate.” This is why moderation is best left to social media companies, which can focus on the latter, rather than worrying too much about what the First Amendment does or doesn’t allow. And this statement ignores the fact that many of the people companies have deplatformed routinely engaged in hateful speech.
If this executive order ever does actually appear, it’s impossible to believe it will find some way to thread the Constitutional needle while still giving the Trump White House what it wants: control of social media platforms.
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