What’s Behind the Trump-Twitter Clash?

Michael Posner
By Michael Posner
Late yesterday, President Trump escalated his war against the social media companies, Twitter in particular, issuing an executive order that seeks to limit their legal protections against liability for content posted on their sites. The irony of his action, as others have pointed out, is that the President himself has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the current state of these social media platforms. This is a space where harmful content, including provably false disinformation, especially in the political realm, continues to flow freely. With his 84 million followers on Twitter, the President has used the platform as a megaphone for his divisive brand of politics, rooted in his penchant for stoking hatred and fear to stir support among his most ardent constituents. Unconstrained by facts, he routinely wades in and often creates controversies—our first president to govern by Tweet. 

The most prominent social media companies themselves, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, have been enablers in this grim spectacle. Facebook and YouTube in particular have been buoyed by unimaginable global growth, record stock prices, and multi-billion-dollar ad revenues, as they have sought to downplay their governance responsibilities for what appears on their sites. They continue to argue as Facebook’s chief, Mark Zuckerberg, did again the other day, that they are the champions of free speech and not “arbiters of the truth.”

Though in the last few days Twitter has assumed greater responsibility, traditionally these companies have wanted us to view them as plumbers, running pipes, with little control or responsibility for what flows through. With this they reject the notion that they are publishers, relying on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the law the president now seeks to modify, to avoid the legal liabilities that traditional publishers bear. 

Read the full Forbes article.
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.