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Trump’s police legacy of social media content


As the political world was inundated with debates about the power of social media, Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA) reminded us of the effects of mainstream television on our democracy. In a letter to cable, satellite and streaming outlets, representatives expressed concern over the disinformation and disinformation allegedly broadcast by the channels broadcast by these services.

Donald Trump wanted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to become the policeman of social media content. Representatives Eshoo and McNerney have not suggested any such role for the federal government in cable, but their letter to company CEOs asking them to be responsible “for spreading disinformation” was attacked by the same people who have marched at the same pace as Donald Trump’s attempt to establish a federal police speech for social media.

“At what time does the Democrats’ book fire start? FCC Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr tweeted about the letter to media companies. This is the same Commissioner Carr who wholeheartedly supported Donald Trump’s efforts to use the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to control social media companies, including empowering that government agency to determine whether editorial decisions have been made. in good faith”.

Donald Trump’s instructions to the FCC took the form of Executive Order 13925 in which he complained that social media “platforms engage in selective censorship.” The executive order was reportedly triggered by Twitter’s inclusion of a fact-checking tag and a link to mail-in ballot information on Trump’s May 26 tweet that the mail-in ballots were ” fraudulent ”. The Trump administration’s official FCC request for action cited a statement by Trump FCC President Ajit Pai supporting the need to determine “how these companies make decisions about what we see and what we don’t see. not ? And who makes these decisions?

Unlike the Trump initiative, the Eshoo-McNerney letter had no proposal for editorial intent control. The letter expressed concern over the “spread of dangerous false information that enabled the January 6 insurgency and is hampering our public health response to the current pandemic” and inquired about the content policies of companies. “Republicans feel like social media platforms are totally silencing conservative voices,” complained Trump. “We’re going to tightly regulate them, or shut them down, before we can ever allow that to happen.” In contrast, the Eshoo-McNerney letter did not threaten to “heavily regulate” or “shut down” media companies. Rather, he asked if the companies “had done anything in response to the misinformation disseminated by these outlets.”

Trump’s effort to turn the FCC into an information policeman thankfully died with the November election. Its legacy, however, lives on. Part of Trump’s legacy is an opinion never quashed by the FCC general counsel (who worked for the president). The notice revealed that the agency could restrict Article 230 of the Communications Act (the provision limiting liability for decisions to moderate the content of Internet services made in “good faith”). Such regulatory intervention was possible, concludes the opinion, because “The FCC has the power to interpret all the provisions of the law on communications [emphasis added]”, Including“ the power to interpret ambiguous language ”.

The obvious goal of the attorney general’s opinion was to streamline the power of the FCC to do as the administration has asked and rule over the decision-making of social media companies. To get there, however, the notice had to comprehensively approach the agency’s powers in a way that could potentially expand such an editorial review to include decision-making in conservative outlets like Fox and Sinclair, as well as cable companies such as Comcast and Charter. .

Herein lies the slippery slope created by the Trump FCC. The agency’s broad interpretation of its powers to meet Trump’s political goals collides with the narrow reality of sheltered discourse. Cable companies, for example, have long maintained that the choice of channels they broadcast is an editorial decision protected by the First Amendment. The breadth of the Trump FCC opinion thus sets up a classic First Amendment dispute, not only for social media companies, but also for all other FCC-regulated editorial decision-making companies. By comparison, Eshoo-McNerney’s letter simply asks these companies to explain or consider their editorial judgments on the release of material that undermines constitutional order and social cohesion. Such a letter is both appropriate and far less frightening to First Amendment sensitivities than Trump’s threats of regulatory retaliation against information providers.

The information that flows through the veins of our communications networks, whether it’s social media, cable, broadcasting or public carriers, is the cornerstone of our democracy. For this democracy to succeed, we must suspend our tribal instincts in favor of the common good; substitute the community for the clan. Yet today it is very profitable – in the form of money for businesses and votes for politicians – to disassemble this community through media focused on identification. The ubiquitous openness of social media and the plethora of cable channels have allowed businesses and politicians to turn a profit by focusing on ‘me’ rather than ‘us’.

Fortunately, the days of Donald Trump’s threats to “tightly regulate or shut them down” if he doesn’t like outlets are over. Yet what Representatives Eshoo and McNerney call “our current polluted information environment” is alive and well. Admittedly, a second Trump-style assumption of editorial decision-making is not the role of government. At the same time, reaffirm our commitment to protect our democracy through the provision of open, fair and defined information by more than the lucrative opportunities of identity-centric media.

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