More than four months after President Donald Trump sent Big Tech a broad warning that the federal government would not tolerate online censorship, Twitter’s recent move to ban users from sharing news articles about Hunter Biden could convert that warning into action.
Twitter last week invoked its Hacked Materials Policy to justify shutting down accounts — including the personal account of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the official Trump campaign account — that tried to share stories first published by the New York Post.
The stories noted that among the contents of a hard drive found in a Delaware computer repair shop was an email from a Ukrainian businessman thanking Hunter Biden for an introduction to his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, in 2015. Joe Biden has steadfastly denied ever mixing in his son’s business interests.
The hard drive also had details on Hunter Biden’s dealings with Chinese officials and included photos of Hunter Biden smoking what appeared to be crack and engaging in sex.
Twitter later said it would tweak its policy, but at first refused to allow users to share the links to the Post’s stories until finally it relented.
In light of Twitter’s actions, which were condemned by conservatives, the White House is “very much looking into” taking executive action against Twitter, Trump campaign senior adviser Steve Cortez said last week, according to the Daily Caller.
Cortez said officials are examining what options could be pursued by the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce.
“The White House is very much looking into that as we speak — what can be done from the executive branch side, what can the DOJ do for example, or Department of Commerce,” Cortez said.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, without mentioned Twitter by name, said Thursday that the FCC plans to develop new guidance “clarifying” Section 230, a section of communications law that protects social media giants from most lawsuits over content.
“Members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed serious concerns about the prevailing interpretation of the immunity set forth in Section 230 of the Communications Act. There is bipartisan support in Congress to reform the law. The U.S. Department of Commerce has petitioned the Commission to ‘clarify ambiguities in section 230.’ And earlier this week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pointed out that courts have relied upon ‘policy and purpose arguments to grant sweeping protections to Internet platforms’ that appear to go far beyond the actual text of the provision,” Pai said in a statement on the FCC’s website.
“Many advance an overly broad interpretation that in some cases shields social media companies from consumer protection laws in a way that has no basis in the text of Section 230. The Commission’s General Counsel has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230. Consistent with this advice, I intend to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning,” he wrote.
“Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech. But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”
Trump in May issued an executive order that called upon the FCC to reconsider Section 230, and also to have the Federal Trade Commission review whether Big Tech is as content-neutral in practice as it claims to be.
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators,” Trump declared in the order.
“The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology. Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms. As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square,” Trump’s order continued.
“Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse,” the order stated, adding, “Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias.”
Senator Ted Cruz: “In the last two days we have seen a remarkable development, we have seen Big Tech, @Twitter, and @Facebook actively interfering in this election in a way that has no precedent in the history of our country.” pic.twitter.com/k6lMnunmPm
— ForAmerica (@ForAmerica) October 15, 2020
Twitter’s refusal to share the Post articles on Hunter Biden has been met by Senate Republicans with plans for a Tuesday vote to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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