Silicon Valley is divided over Trump’s executive order to rein in social media

May 28, 2020, 11:11 PM UTC

The tech industry reacted like much of America to President Trump’s executive order cracking down on social media companies—with deep division.

“Our platforms have empowered a wide range of people and organizations from across the political spectrum, giving them a voice and new ways to reach their audiences,” Google said in a statement. It added that the order “would hurt America’s economy and its global leadership on Internet freedom.”

However, Michael Moe, CEO of investment firm GSV and a rare Trump supporter in Silicon Valley, sided with the President. He said Twitter, in which he was an early investor, shouldn’t fact-check politicians. “I don’t think Twitter should get in the business of being an umpire,” he argued.

But Moe added that if social media companies choose to become more like publishers, which face higher scrutiny from regulators, then they should be regulated as such. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” he said.

Trump’s executive order came a day after Twitter flagged one of his tweets in which he claimed “there is NO WAY” mail-in ballots would be “anything less than substantially fraudulent.” The company, for the first time, appended a fact-check link at the bottom of the tweet, debunking the President’s comment.

Enraged, Trump on Thursday signed an executive order that takes aim at a legal provision called Section 230 that protects Internet companies from liability for what their users post. Under the order, regulators may decide whether social media companies should keep those protections. 

The move is part of a long battle between the tech industry and conservatives, who complain that social media services unfairly delete their posts for violating policies against hate speech and misinformation. In recent months, some services have started to police what political figures post on their services and in political ads. 

Although Trump said that his order is intended to encourage free speech, Facebook said it will have the opposite effect. “It will restrict more speech online, not less,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “By exposing companies to potential liability for everything that billions of people around the world say, this would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone.”

Twitter declined to comment about Trump’s order.

Some of the tech lobbying groups that Internet companies support criticized Trump’s order as well. The Internet Association said that it undermines the government’s efforts to protect the free flow of information and “threatens the vibrancy of a core segment of our economy.” The association also noted: “This proposed Executive Order seems designed to punish a handful of companies for perceived slights and is inconsistent with the purpose and text of Section 230.”

Incompas, another lobbying organization, argued that weakening Section 230 prevents people from promoting their ideas and from creating new online businesses. “Social media is an American-made engine for economic growth and opportunity,” the group said in a statement. “The Executive Order threatens to hurt innovators and small business on Main Street who depend on social media the most.”

However, Cameron Winklevoss, head of Winklevoss Capital Management, who, with his brother, once sued Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly stealing their idea for Facebook, took Trump’s side. He said, on Twitter, that Twitter should stay away from fact-checking posts. “‘Fact checking’ is a euphemism for editorializing which is a form of censorship. And that’s a fact,” he tweeted on Thursday.

Despite its scuffle with Trump, Twitter doubled down Thursday on its new policy of fact-checking politicians. Since flagging Trump’s tweet yesterday, it reportedly added hundreds of fact-check labels to tweets from others, including one by Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry who said that U.S. troops may have spread the coronavirus in China.

Meanwhile, Trump and his base bashed Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, tying his liberal tweets from his personal handle to the decision Twitter made to fact-check the President’s tweet. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defended the decision and his employee.

“Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me,” he tweeted. “Please leave our employees out of this.”

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