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Michael Hiltzik: Trump's attack on Twitter is a complete fake

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Twitter went even further a day later, when it placed a blocking message over a Trump tweet implying that participants in protests over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who apparently died in the custody of Minneapolis police, should be shot if they were looting. The message required users to click separately to view the tweet.

The executive order bears all the hallmarks of a Trump tantrum, including the lack of a mechanism to turn it into action. It begins with a Frank Costanza-like litany of personal grievances.

"Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse," the order reads, specifically calling out Twitter: "Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias ... Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician's tweet." (Trump means any politician other than himself.)

The order calls on the Federal Communications Commission to "clarify" the scope of 230's immunity from liability, even though that latitude is quite clear in the language of the law.

The text makes it clear that the immunity is very broad indeed. It allows online services to restrict access to content that they consider to be "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable."

The catchall language of "otherwise objectionable," Goldman says, "makes you wonder exactly what wouldn't have been included in Congress's expectations, since they gave such a broad-based mandate to services."

 

The 230 exemption has been relied on by countless services that allow users to post statements or other content on their sites -- newspapers hosting reader comments, merchants posting consumer reviews, expert and amateur forums of every description.

Nevertheless, efforts to place limits of the 230 exemption are legion. In one closely followed California case, a San Francisco personal injury lawyer persuaded a state judge to order the consumer review site Yelp to remove an ex-client's criticism of her performance after the lawyer won a defamation lawsuit against the client.

Yelp refused, noting that it hadn't been named as a defendant in the defamation lawsuit and arguing that it was immune from liability for the client's posts under Section 230. The California Supreme Court found in Yelp's favor, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the issue, ending the case against Yelp. (The defamation judgment against the client remained in effect.)

Congress tried to carve out an exception to Section 230 protection aimed at online sites that purportedly facilitated sex trafficking. The so-called Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA, which passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law by Trump in 2018, made online services liable for ads ostensibly promoting prostitution, consensual or otherwise.

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