Twitter, Snapchat, go to war with Trump amid New Policy by not promoting his Content

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U.S. President Donald Trump. (File Photo: IANS)

In one of the first lawsuits challenging the executive order on preventing online censorship signed by US President Donald Trump, a digital rights group has claimed that the order violates the rights to free speech of all online platforms and individuals.

The lawsuit was filed by nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

CDT said that the executive order which was issued after Twitter added a fact-checking label to one of Trump’s tweets about mail-in voting was “plainly retaliatory”.

The May 28 executive order “violates the first Amendment in two fundamental respects: Frist the order is plainly retaliatory: it attacks a private company, Twitter, for exercising its First Amendment right to comment on the President’s statements,” said the lawsuit.

“Second, and more fundamentally, the Order seeks to curtail and chill the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals…,” it added.

Trump’s executive order seeks to blunt Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act which generally protects internet companies from legal liability for user comments.

Section 230 states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Twitter later also flagged Trump’s tweet about protests in the US where he said “when the looting starts the shooting starts.”

Photo-messaging app Snapchat has decided not to promote US President Donald Trump’s account on its Discover page of curated content, Axios reported on Wednesday.

What makes the Snapchat decision significant is that Trump posted or tweeted controversial content on Twitter and Facebook and not Snapchat.

“We are not currently promoting the President’s content on Snapchat’s Discover platform,” a spokesperson for Snapchat’s parent company Snap was quoted as saying.

“We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover,” the spokesperson added.

The move is “a step beyond” that of Twitter which flagged Trump tweets on glorifying violence and promoting racism as protests against the death of African-American George Floyd grew momentum nationwide in the US.

“Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America,” said the Snapchat spokesperson.

In an earlier memo, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said: “Our Discover content platform is a curated platform, where we decide what we promote. We have spoken time and again about working hard to make a positive impact, and we will walk the talk with the content we promote on Snapchat.”

Snapchat “may continue to allow divisive people to maintain an account on Snapchat, as long as the content that is published on Snapchat is consistent with our community guidelines, but we will not promote that account or content in any way”.

Snapchat has not blocked Trump’s account but would no longer promote it.

While Twitter last week put out a “public interest notice” on the tweet for violating the platform’s policies about glorifying violence, Facebook refused to take action when the tweet was cross-posted to its platform.

The outrage also grows within Facebook to take action on a controversial post by Trump. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, however, has defended his decision to retain the Trump post on its platform.

Several Facebook employees took to Twitter, publicly announcing their solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter protests that have seized the nation.

The world’s mighty digital platforms will be reined in only when privacy regulation knocks their business model of “uninhibited data collection” which in turn will erode their margins, and it’s unlikely that firestorms over content policy regulation will spark major change, co-director of the Digital Platforms and Democracy Project at Harvard Kennedy School told IANS.

“If you were to institute this privacy regulation that says, no Facebook, no Google, no longer can you take whatever data you want without checking with the user, you will see opt-in rates drop drastically,” Dr. Dipayan Ghosh said.

Ghosh’s comments come against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s recent executive order that escalates his war against digital platforms. Trump’s order targets current law that protects internet companies from lawsuits based on user posts.

Trump whipped out his executive order after Twitter put fact checks on two of his tweets. Twitter tagged Trump’s tweets with a warning that Trump violated the platform’s rules by glorifying violence when he suggested protesters in Minneapolis could be shot. Trump’s tweets came in the midst of violent protests over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who was pinned to the pavement and pleaded for air as a white police officer slammed his knee onto Floyd’s neck.

Debate is swirling around digital platforms’ role in content policing as misinformation on coronavirus rages on, the 2020 US presidential election looms and angry protesters spill out onto America’s streets, protesting police brutality.

Content moderation is not the “hill to die ona, according to Ghosh. “Economic regulation is.”

“We shouldn’t be looking at this at surface level. We shouldn’t be reacting to the shiny object out there,” Ghosh said.

According to Ghosh, digital platforms’ will fall in line only when their business model, “focused on uninhibited data collection towards the end of behavioural profiling”, is dented in a material way.

“Facebook does that, Google does that. These companies have millions of data points on a typical user and will use machine learning to get insights from those millions of data points to try and understand the type of people that we are.”

For a more lasting solution to the pervasive data collection and profiling on digital platforms, Ghosh recommends that policy makers take “a closer look at this machine, understand how it works, try to identify the ways that it generates these negative externalities in the first place and perhaps curtail some business practices that contributed to those negatives.”

Ghosh pushes back against the idea that it’s okay for companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter to carry on as if they have “unilateral economic authority to kind of do whatever it pleases to the consumer situation.”

Ghosh contends that the right approach is to “rebalance and redistribute the power between the corporate and the consumer.”

“That’s to say there’s information asymmetry between the corporate and the consumer, where Facebook knows very well the value of your data. But you as a consumer, don’t necessarily know the value. And you give it away.”

Ghosh is the author of a new book ‘Terms of Disservice: How Silicon Valley is Destructive by Design’, out soon.

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