President Trump's executive order Thursday aimed at intimidating social media companies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is a blatant retaliatory attack by a would-be dictator against those platforms, which he regularly abuses with lies and disinformation.
Trump's order came just days after Twitter directed viewers of some of his tweets to fact-checking news reports with the label, "Get the facts about mail-in ballots." Trump's tweets claimed voting by mail causes voter fraud.
According to Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough, Trump's tweets "contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots."
And then, after the violence in Minneapolis-St. Paul Thursday night that erupted after a white police officer was shown in a video kneeling on the neck of a black suspect who pleaded that he could not breath and then died, Trump tweeted that protestors were "THUGS," adding "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
Twitter then flagged that tweet for "glorifying violence," an action that brought more protests from Trump's right-wing supporters.
"We're here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers," said Trump before signing his executive order, the legality of which is being called into question by legal experts, legislators and advocates for the tech sector. That is an ironic statement coming from Trump.
Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents major tech companies like Facebook and Google, said Trump's action sets "the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president."
Declared Jon Berroya, interim president of the Internet Association, "Based on media reports, this proposed Executive Order seems designed to punish a handful of companies for perceived slights and is inconstant with the purpose and text of Section 230. It stands to undermine a variety of government efforts to protect public safety and spread critical information online through social media and threatens the vibrancy of a core segment of our economy.”
Retaliation. Punishment. Twin characteristics of this "stable genius" of a president.
The executive order could result in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acting against the tech companies and in the Federal Trade Commission investigating them to determine if they are upholding their pledges of political neutrality.
Trump, with his more than 80 millions followers, regularly uses Twitter to promote his views, castigate and belittle adversaries and critics, and to spread lies and misinformation. It's about time Twitter acted on behalf of truthfulness, and hopefully his punitive action will be challenged and cast aside.
Here we have arguably the most powerful man in the world attempting to bully and intimidate a social media platform into allowing him to run roughshod over the truth. That must not stand.
Already, Trump is using the Justice Department to investigate the tech industry, and Attorney General William P. Barr has suggested the federal government may seek changes to rules governing such companies.
At issue is a law, Section 230, which prevents tech companies from being held liable for content posted by users, as well as for decisions to remove content. Republicans have threatened to revoke those protections complaining the social media platforms have an anti-conservative bias.
All of this is ironic, since it was Trump's prolific use of social media -- and Russia's, by the way -- that many credit for his defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now, he is complaining that those very platforms, which provide him a massive free megaphone, are being mean to him and his right-wing pals.
Complaining would be fine. But using the power of the presidency to intimidate? That is a dangerous step toward the control of free speech and a potential violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.