Trump Threatens To “Shut Down” Social Media Companies

donald_trump_president-elect_portrait_croppedI have a column criticizing Twitterfor its labelling of tweets from President Donald Trump as presumptively false. Twitter has yielded to demands in Congress to censor and regulate political speech.  In signature style, however, Trump promptly bulldozed the high ground in the controversy by threatening to close down social media companies through retaliatory regulations.  The First Amendment was written to bar that very authority in either the President or Congress or both.  The President cannot be the putative victim of private censorship while claiming the authority to engage in government censorship.  In fairness however Democratic leaders have threatened such a regulatory crackdown in the past. The coverage on Trump’s threat telling omits the fact that Democratic leaders and presidential candidates have made the same threat in the past.

Trump went on Twitter to warn social media giants that the federal government could “strongly regulate” or “close them down” if they continue to “silence conservative voices.” 

Some of us who have long criticized Twitter, Facebook and other companies for bias and speech regulation. However, such private speech regulation presents a difficult “Little Brother” problem under our Constitution, which is focused on state action.  Ironically, Trump is suggesting a more chilling prospect of using government power to retaliate against companies due to their bias.  That is neither nuanced nor difficult. It would constitute a core violation of the First Amendment.

The President tweeted “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that happen again.”

Again, I have been a long critic of these companies and their policies. However, this threat is chilling and wrong.  It is a circular call for retaliatory regulation to deter the viewpoint bias.  

What is particularly bizarre is that the President was winning in this fight.  Truth will come out.  Many commentators, even some opposed to Trump, raised concerns over the action.  This is precisely what Justice Louis Brandeis meant in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927) when he declared “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

The President has long struggled with the core values of the free press and free speech, even when those values work to his own advantage. His original objections against Twitter were well-founded and compelling.  He then assumed the very same abusive position as the company in seeking to limit or regulate speech. The difference is that he was speaking as the head of the Executive Branch. That is precisely what the First Amendment was designed to protect against.  That is not the “Little Brother” problem. That is the “Big Brother problem.”


131 thoughts on “Trump Threatens To “Shut Down” Social Media Companies”

  1. Jonathan: Donald Trump doesn’t like either the mainstream media or social media platforms because they have the audacity to fact check his often misleading or false statements. They have learned not to trust anything he says. So it is not unexpected Trump would want to “close them down”.because that is what a wanna be dictator always does. In the tweet in question Trump declared both that social media platforms “totally silence conservatives” and that voting by mail results in “cheating, forgery and theft of Ballots”. Both statements were false so Trump’s attacks on Twitter were neither “well-founded” nor “compelling” as you allege.

    In your post you criticized Twitter for labeling of tweets from President Donald Trump as “presumptively false”. That’s also untrue. They didn’t make any judgment but simply cautioned Twitter followers to “Get the facts about mail-in-ballots” and linked their statement to a fact check page. Over the past three years we have learned never to take anything Trump says at face value so fact checking Trump’s tweets is only being prudent.

    I learned long ago when working for a large corporation that first amendment rights end when you enter the workplace. Private companies can and do restrict free speech. We may not like it but that’s a fact of life. In the instant case Twitter neither censored or cancelled Trump’s account. They simply added a cautionary note. But Trump is so intent on silencing Twitter (state action) that he ordered HIS DOJ last year to open an investigation into Twitter because of alleged “harms caused by online platforms that partially or completely fall outside the anti-trust laws”. William Barr has personally taken charge of the investigation. But if Trump uses government action to “close them down” he may be shooting himself in the foot. How will he “tweet” everyday if there is no Tweeter?

    1. as it presumes to fact check Trump Twitter lets CCP officials say whatever they like

      they also quietly ban Chinese dissident accounts

      Twitter’s AI censorship routines is run by a woman named Li Fei Fei who is some kind of CCP mole

      Twitter is becoming an asset of the CCP in its global information war — very sad for an American company to be such a tool.

  2. Trump supporters are mad that their Dear Leader can’t lie and slander on any given day or subject. So Trump supporters are asking that Trump should have the right to lie to them 24-7. Have your congress member write a law that gives Trump the right to say anything he wants, just Trump, no one else can say anything against the Dear Leader. I can see why Trump supporters like Putin so much.

    1. This is where we should see CommitToHonestDiscussion prove he’s not a hypocrite.

      Tick, Tick, Tick…

  3. Is our constitution actually a suicide pact? How do we defend the 1st amendment and at the same time secure this country against anti-American propaganda? Why are we quick to demand sanctions on foreign entities that attempt to influence our national politics, but will cry for justice if domestic entities, attempting to influence our national politics, are threatened with similarly effective sanctions? What’s at the root of this? Is it really about the security of rights? Or is it using the security of rights as leverage on the real root problem?

    In my opinion, if anything about our constitution enables the demise of our republic, it is the minimal qualifications to enter the franchise. We wouldn’t consider giving our toddlers a can of gas and matches and tell them to go have a good time, but we give the power to vote to people that wouldn’t know constitution from constipation. It’s the civics ignorance of that latter group that is the real root problem. And we are witnessing our national suicide by defending their natural right to vote themselves out of any security of their natural rights.

  4. Jon,

    You focus on the techs being private. But, we have private utilities that are subject to public regulation and approvals.

    Give us an article about the techs, are they publishers or a utility?

  5. Off topic. Just curious, what’s Joe Biden’s wife doing involving herself in the Flynn unmasking?

  6. Trump says:
    “Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”

    There are many many specific cases of this “platform bias” against conservatives.

    Trump is NOT winning the argument; the FB banning and Google Search bias is getting worse. And yes, Twitter is bad and inconsistent – it seems likely that at some point Trump will switch to much much smaller Gab.

    Free speech includes the right to promote conspiracy theories: whether the US gov’t was involved in 9/11, or if Obama spied on Trump (wait, now we find out it was actually true), or if Epstein did or did not kill himself.

    Trump has the same free speech rights as every other US citizen.

    Platforms claim to be neutral, to avoid “publisher” responsibility. But if so, they can’t censor any. If they censor some, they have to censor all.

    It seems there’s huge amounts of “hate speech” — especially against Trump.

    1. TomGrey – if Trump moved to Gab, Twitter would die before the election. I do have a Gab account, I just have to try to remember what it is.

    2. Go, Tom, it’s your birthday . . . . go, Tom, like its Friday.

    3. Well, exercising free speech, even spouting conspiracy theories still comes with consequences. To complain it’s not fair that criticism is “hateful”. Is to ignore that it is largely self inflicted, opening your mouth makes you a fair target.

      1. The consequences should be more speech – and comparison of facts.
        While facts are different than opinions, most facts include a historical portion which often can not be checked.

        What’s not “fair” is for Twitter to ban Rep complaints but not Dem complaints.

        Similar to “believe women” – like Ford, against a Rep, but NOT Reade, against a Dem.

        Different treatment for similar situations is what’s not fair. All hate speech OK, or no hate speech — but not censor Rep complaints as hate speech while accepting Dem hate speech.

    4. Haha. Thanks for checking in with Pravda Faux News’ marching order for the dwindling number of gullible rubes, dupes, klan wannabees, pocket-traitors and grifters on the make who still claim to support the unsupportable day glo bozo. You see, tommie, no reputable news source or even a responsible adult, has ever said that “Obama spied on Trump” — as if; rather, because of the unusual amount of contacts between members of the bozo’s campaign and Russian intelligence assets, the FBI initiated an investigation. That investigation eventually led to numerous federal indictments, guilty verdicts, guilty pleas, and prison time. I doubt you’ve ever heard any of this from the shrieking heads on Pravda; so, you’re welcome for the unvarnished truth. Also, what is that ticking sound?

      this is to “I have a ‘hannity was here’ tattoo across my lower back” tommie boi

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