Donald Trump detests most of the big tech companies is something that everyone is fairly clear about and his activities have made it easier for him to come to power in the United States, too. In any case, last Thursday the president presented an executive order in which he promised to end “the 26 words that created the internet” and imposed the 13 words that initiate possible censorship on social networks: “Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse”.
Trump has promised to modify a part of the Communications Decency Act, specifically article 230, which has traditionally been considered the lifesaver of a large part of internet platforms since he does not consider them legally responsible of the content that users post on these platforms.
The controversy has come after a tweet from Trump that Twitter classified as content that “glorifies violence“. Trump’s intention with his new regulation is that social networks cannot do that kind of thing, since, in his own words, “when big and powerful social network companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they wield a dangerous power”. Twitter says that the president wants to apply “a reactionary and politicized approach” to the law, Facebook accuses him of “censoring social networks” and Google believes the new rules would “damage the U.S. economy and its global leadership in internet freedom.”
What will happen now with Twitter, Facebook …?
If Trump carries out his threat through the new text that has been proposed, internet platforms would begin to be responsible for the content that anyone publishes on them. What does this mean? To understand it, two key terms must be analyzed in which the new regulations would apply severe differences:
- Platform: A platform as such will be, according to the reform that the United States Government intends to apply, a webspace in which users publish content without the owner company intervening on any publication. Today, Twitter, Facebook or Youtube are considered platforms, but they exercise restraint, so with the new regulations, everything would change: to continue being platforms, they should let everyone publish what they want (even if it is objectively criminal or receives massive complaints from other users) and not intervene, classify or delete any content.
- Publisher: A publisher is anyone who generally publishes content. Today, the media or any person who publishes something on the internet is considered an editor. With the new regulations, however, if Facebook, Twitter or YouTube want to moderate the content they host, they should be considered publishers. In that case, they will lose their legal protection over what others publish and must submit to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which will collect user complaints about the alleged bias of these social networks.
In other words. Imagine that you are a user of Twitter and Facebook and want to post a comment on your wall that many would consider, for example, racist. With the regulations that Trump intends to apply, if Twitter or Facebook want to be considered platforms they must let you publish any content, as offensive, inciting hate or illegal. In case they want to moderate what you write, they must be classified as publishers/editors, in which case they must respond to anything you have written.
And what are social networks going to do in the face of this potential threat? At the moment, not much. Most, for now, maintain their complaints to Trump, although the truth is that they do not agree between them. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg does n’t even agree with what Twitter did by marking a tweet from the president as a possible ‘glorifier of violence’: “We have a different policy than Twitter. I think Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of the truth of everything people say on the internet. Private companies probably shouldn’t be in a position to do that, “he said in an interview on Fox News Thursday.
Will the order go ahead? It doesn’t seem, but …
Now the question is obvious: can Trump go ahead with his proposal? It doesn’t seem to be easy. Several legal experts assure in Business Insider that “Trump does not have the power to regulate or overthrow social media companies simply because he disagrees with them”, a criterion that is added by experts in technology law, who consider that some precepts of The executive order of the United States Government are not entirely legal.
However, not everything would be positive for social networks, which since Trump became president have held a constant discussion with the United States Government, and this fact could further tighten the rope. In fact, the White House is studying the possibility of denouncing social networks that, in its opinion, are violating the good faith criterion of the Law of Decency in Communications.
Is there censorship on Facebook and Twitter?
Behind all this issue, there is a recurring debate for years: is there censorship on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube? Is there any kind of bias that causes some content to be eliminated (those on the left for people on the left and those on the right for people on the right) and others remain published (those on the right for people on the left and those on the left for right-wing people)?
The truth is that these social networks have two ways of moderating certain content, although most of these actions are carried out (almost) automatically. There are two ways that content published in them ends up being deleted:
- Other people’s moderation: Virtually all social networks include certain options for their users to report the content that they consider should be deleted. Thus, if a user sees a tweet, a video or a Facebook publication that may be criminal, that encourages collective harassment or that generates hate speech, among other things, they can mark such publication and report it to the social network on the question. If the platform receives many complaints about specific content, it will generally automatically delete it, although the author of the deleted content may appeal this decision.
Needless to say, despite the efforts, social networks have not managed to end the hoaxes on their platforms: both on Facebook and on Twitter, bots and ‘fake news’ continue to roam freely. But that, although it seems the same, is another battle.