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The Verge’s Deep Read of Trump’s Executive Order Targeting Online Forums

As the US death toll in the COVID-19 pandemic crossed 100,000, a pair of President Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots received warning labels about misleading information from Twitter. Seemingly in retaliation, Trump issued an executive order aimed at rolling back the liability protections given to online forums—specifically Twitter and Facebook, but also including the likes of TidBITS Talk—under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Without such protections, any online platform that hosts discussions could be legally liable for what’s said. The Verge’s Adi Robertson takes a line-by-line read of the executive order to provide context, background, and a reality check (the EFF suggests the executive order misreads the law and is unconstitutional). We can’t say that you’ll understand the executive order by the end—that may be impossible—but at least you’ll be up to speed on this latest distraction.

The Verge Executive Order Deep Read

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Comments About The Verge’s Deep Read of Trump’s Executive Order Targeting Online Forums

Notable Replies

  1. No confusion here. Pretty straight forward!
    David

  2. Trump is a complete ass hat and this EO is just more proof of that. Of course it’s great organizations like the EFF are pushing back against this kind of nonsense, but honestly I’m not too worried either way. Trump is essentially powerless here. He’s angry alright (good sign considering his re-election is up) but his admin has never wanted to regulate business or take on corporate America, so what really can he do? Chest pounding and grandstanding is about it. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. An angry impotent man lashing out at those he can’t beat. Free speech in this country ultimately won’t be affected by this EO any more than Trump’s 2016 “infrastructure plan” succeeded in building any bridges or tunnels. Or the Mexicans paid for a “beautiful wall”.

    If I were Dorsey I’d in fact use the opportunity to show Trump what stifling free speech really is. Delete his account for a week. Then turn it back on. That should make quite clear what the difference is. He’ll learn that as long as he can put his BS on Twitter he has nothing to complain about. And if he doesn’t acknowledge the point, turn off his account until he does. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less about Twitter. In fact, I’m pretty sure the world would be a better place without “social media”. But the fact that Trump’s now getting schooled by his own favorite platform is just too sweet.

    The irony of this whole charade is that Trump was for years allowed to promote his vile agenda on Twitter (as no regular user would have been able) as in the 5th grader’s sense of “free speech”. What Trump is now calling for is essentially for Dorsey not to be allowed his right to free speech to counter. So ironically the guy crying free speech is the guy actually asking for the Federal Government to stifle another citizen’s free speech. Exactly the thing the 1st Amendment explicitly prohibits. It’s really a beautiful irony, and exactly the kind of completely bass ackwards poppycock we’ve come to expect from 45. Good thing he’s a goner come Nov. I just hope the D also take the Senate so they can reverse Trump’s most egregious BS asap. Four lost years will have been more than enough already.

  3. Most of us have opinions on leadership. Can we at least have one site - this one - that doesn’t go off on political rants? This is supposed to be a site for discussing technical issues. Thank you for your consideration.
    David

  4. Right now, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects TidBITS Publishing from liability based on what is said here in TidBITS Talk, even given my moderation and occasional editing. This executive order throws all that up in the air, in ways that are entirely unpredictable. On the one hand, there’s the seeming intent that if that legal shield is stripped away, no moderation would happen because it would be too dangerous to risk a lawsuit. On the other hand, online platforms might get far more aggressive to avoid allowing anything that could be questionable, as the New York Times argues.

    I’m far from a free speech absolutist, and I have no problem with revisiting Section 230 given that times have changed from when it was written to allow Prodigy and AOL to moderate online discussion without fear of legal reprisal. But we as a society have far more pressing—life or death, not to mention the health of the economy—issues to deal with. Even if this were a well-conceived and considered proposal, which it isn’t, it would be a distraction from the real problems that we all face every day right now.

  5. Yes, I’m not a free speech absolutist either. In Europe it doesn’t exist though people think it does given the amount of focus on it in certain quarters of the US and hence, online. Here there are laws against libel, slander and defamation and against hate speech.

    Having participated in fora since the early nineties, including the earliest of web communities, Cafe Utne which sprang from Utne magazine, there’s no case I’ve found where moderation wasn’t necessary, else toxicity would flourish, given human pyschopathology.

  6. I really wouldn’t loose any sleep over this, @ace. This EO is a paper tiger and if it actually were actionable and indeed led to real government intervention, it would immediately be tied up in the courts for years. In fact, it looks as if the paper tiger itself is going to court before any real action results. By the time any clarity results from these legal proceedings, Trump will have been voted out of office and hopefully a minimum degree of sanity restored. As wrong as this EO is, it’s really nothing I would actually worry about in terms of affecting our actual online lives. Just my 2¢.

    I entirely agree with you though that this is a massive distraction from real problems. I’d claim that distraction is 100% intentional and in fact the actual motivation behind this EO.

  7. Mr. Engst, you have no worries that your site will be considered a ‘21st century public square’. I see the order as a way to call out the social media giants and make them actively renounce any pretense of providing a public service. You are a content creator and your fora add to your content. Facebook and Twitter actively procure content from others and monetize it, sharing very little with the creators, and without care about the positive or negative effect on the public good.

  8. As suggested by Mr. Tuma, can we PLEASE refrain from posting political beliefs? If I want to know anyone’s stand on political issues, I’ll ask … I ask that you respect my right to NOT be subjected to your rant!

  9. I don’t think you have any such “right”. But you are surely welcome to not read any posts as you wish, and thus not impose your desires or beliefs on others on any topic.

  10. It is my impression this is a forum about the Apple ecosystem, and we come here for technical facts, advice and thoughts about that only. Adam’s original post was an interpretation of (not rant about) an executive order. When I want to read or post political opinions, I go to appropriate sites. I find Tidbits a welcome respite from political rants of all persuasions.

  11. Article 10 of the the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights guarantees free speech to EU citizens.

  12. I’m pretty sure @tommy was referring to unchecked free speech (he even used the term ‘absolutist’ right before). Indeed that does not exist in most European countries to the extent that it does in the US. In Germany you go to jail for saying “Auschwitz never happened” and in Sweden you’ll get a visit from the cops for posting “I’d like to see xyz killed”. In Switzerland you’re allowed to tell your buddy “I hate [insert favorite immigrant group here]”, but if you get up on a table in a crowded restaurant and shout it, you can be charged.

    I think most Europeans feel very free in expressing their views and have little doubt they have freedom of expression. In fact, considering the “shut up and dribble” comment made after LeBron spoke up about police violence, that’s something I don’t think many citizens in Europe would expect to hear after saying how they view a current political development. I’m pretty sure many Europeans (and I admit I’m mainly thinking about western and northern Europe, the parts I know) would consider themselves at least as free in their expression as the average US citizen, especially those of color. Just an example, my European friends simply cannot understand how a great player like Kaepernick after all this time still can’t get a job just because he dared publicly display his dissatisfaction with injustice in our country.

    It’s true that in the US we too know limits to free speech. Crying fire in a crowded theater is a common example, libel and slander are others. But they are very finely detailed nuances to what is otherwise a rather broad interpretation and although sometimes challenged in courts, rarely do judges uphold limitations. That is rather different in Europe, where as so often a much more proportional weighting is expected. I think here in the US a lot of people also seem to forget that the most important aspect to the free speech section of the 1st Amendment is about barring government from imposing limits on citizens’ expression. It’s not so much about granting one citizen the right to impose their views on others willy-nilly. A private company saying we won’t allow you to post this or that on our board is not a 1st Amendment violation.

  13. I would like to keep this as focused on Section 230 and the executive order as possible. Freedom of speech does come into play there, but what I find most interesting is the tension of what people can say online, if they can be liable for what they say, and who else in the situation might be liable.

    Most confusing about this whole situation is what the effect of removing a liability shield might have. It seems that the executive order was aimed at preventing Twitter from labeling or hiding the president’s tweets, but it’s not clear that making it possible for Twitter to be sued for what people post would cause them to eliminate all moderation. I don’t see how Twitter could eliminate moderation—there’s stuff that’s actively illegal (child pornography, to cite the bugbear) that Twitter couldn’t allow without running afoul of other laws. So to my mind, at least, losing the liability shield might cause much more draconian moderation, so as to eliminate anything that could be legally concerning. That’s likely the tack I’d take with TidBITS Talk if I were to lose the liability shield.

    I could also imagine the terms of service for online discussion services changing to try to redirect liability back to posters in a big way.

  14. Sticking to the topic originally posted would render this exchange unnecessary.

  15. Technically you’re right…but it is hard to figure out just when threads will descend into political BS. I realize that the President is a crook and only progressives can save us…or that the President is the best ever and progressives are anti democracy socialists…all of course depending on your political point of view.

    However…and I’m in no way suggesting that tech writers and pubs should not have political thoughts…the fact remains that they are still tech related and not political related. Perhaps we can all remember just why we read Tidbits and leave the political stuff for other forums…that’s the point I believe was trying to be made. It would be nice for all of us to try and get along and talk about Tidbits stuff since none of the political sniping will change a single point of view.

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