Ignore Trump’s Twitter Tantrum Executive Order and Address Disinformation Instead
There is a free-speech problem online, but President Donald Trump is not the victim. His May 28 executive order was clearly intended to dominate social media companies. It was a tantrum in legalese, in response to Twitter’s mild fact-checking of his lie about non-existent voter fraud — one of the few categories of lies that digital platforms say they take seriously. While incoherent and spiteful, the order has already done constitutional damage by retaliating against a private company for its views. This way lies the evisceration of speech rights and skittish platforms prostrated to power.
When President Richard Nixon wanted to stop CBS News and the Washington Post from covering Watergate, he tried to use the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to strongarm the media companies by threatening their broadcast licenses (which the Post then owned). The rule of law and respect for the First Amendment put an end to that gambit. Trump’s retaliation against Twitter, again invoking the FCC, is an even more blatant power grab that capitalizes on confusion about the roles of digital platforms and the government when it comes to free speech. While Twitter is a private editor and can label, remove, or screen speech at will – something the Trump Administration itself has relied on when blocking followers — the White House is constrained.