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

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

The goal of his executive order was to pump up the image of online services into behemoths that have taken over the public debate space for their own purposes, assuming "unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences," as he put it in remarks during the executive order signing ceremony. In his mind, that made them legitimate targets for regulation.

Trump's audience, of course, wasn't ordinary citizens who feel their access to information or right to post their content online was being trampled, but his political base, which imagines that its megaphone is being taken away. The biggest joke during the signing ceremony was Trump's assertion that "if (Twitter) were able to be legally shut down, I would do it. I think I'd be hurting it very badly if we didn't use it anymore."

As the prominent internet rights lawyer Mike Godwin observed in response, "Seriously? Who on earth believes that Donald J. Trump could make himself live another week in the White House -- much less serve another term -- without his daily dose of Twitter psychodrama?"

In truth, Trump was just trying to work the referees -- hoping that his rhetoric alone will discourage Twitter from further interfering with his tweets.

That seems to be working with Facebook, which thus far has announced a hands-off policy on political posting, no matter how noxious or mendacious. Even Facebook executives, as it happens, have been discontented by the hands-off policy adopted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Arguments that private companies such as Twitter or Facebook are infringing on constitutional free speech rights are misguided, since constitutional protections for free speech apply to official government infringements, not those of private actors.


In the private sphere, the diversity of approaches to content moderation may be society's safety valve. "We have to let go of some Platonic ideal of content moderation, that if internet companies just invested enough time and money, they'd come up with something that would make everyone happy," Goldman told me. "That outcome does not exist. You're always going to cheese off somebody."

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