One of the things I wanted to do on my channel was make useful educational videos, where I explain complicated or usually misunderstood topics in simple terms that anyone can understand. My first such educational video goes live today, and it’s about something that has hit the news recently: President Trump’s escalating bad blood with Twitter and his legal threats against the social media giant.
Twitter has decided to go to war with President Donald J Trump, who has hit back by threatening them with legal consequences for their partisan behaviour. Few realise that this battle could lead to the death of social media itself! Trump has issued an Executive Order regarding Section 230 protections, and how they might be removed if Twitter continues to indulge in “Editorial Conduct”.
In this video I provide a simplified overview of the media law that has come into play since Twitter decided to start censoring and criticising the US President’s Tweets, including the different legal responsibilities of Publishers and Platforms. Specifically, I’m talking about Section 230 from The Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Whatup nerds?! I’m Jay Shareef and
today I’m talking about Donald Trump.
Now I’m well aware that a lot of you watching this video
will think that everything Trump does is fantastic.
And there are many others who
think everything Trump does is evil.
This video isn’t for those people.
I’m not here to repeat your opinion back
to you. I’m here to talk about the facts.
And the fact is, when it comes to his row with Twitter,
President Trump is right about a lot
of things, and wrong about others.
Today, I’m going to explain
what’s been happening and why.
Honestly, I don’t really want to talk about Donald Trump
because no matter what you say half
the population is going to hate you.
But this is a really important issue
with enormous ramifications.
So… yeah, I’m talking about Donald Trump.
Now some of my friends absolutely love him,
and some of my friends absolutely loathe him.
Me? I’m pretty neutral.
Yes that’s right! I’m a centrist.
The fun thing about being a
moderate centrist nowadays is that
the right wingers all call you a communist,
and the left wingers all call you a nazi.
Because that is how political
discussions work now! Isn’t it a great?
No. It’s not. It’s really not.
Look, I don’t love Trump and I don’t hate him.
I am fascinated by him, though.
Because I think he’s either a mad man, or a genius.
Quite possibly both.
One thing I want to address right off the bat.
Yes, I am British and everyone
knows that Trump loves Britain.
Which for us Brits is a refreshing change
because Obama… well, Obama hated Britain.
He never said it directly.
But, like a passive-aggressive schoolgirl, he
was always making snarky little comments.
It was obvious he don’t like us.
So, yes it is a very nice change to have an
American President who truly loves our country.
But that’s not going to in any
way affect what I say here.
I’m only interested in the facts and
you should be as well. Let’s do this.
So it’s been a fascinating few weeks in the battle
between Twitter and President Donald Trump.
[Off screen] He’s not MY president!
I said: He’s not MY President!
Oh look. It’s my little friend Pete Woke Man.
Yeah, of course it is. Hello Pete.
What’s offending you today?
Donald Trump! He’s not MY President.
Yes, we know he isn’t. You’re not even American.
Of course, he’s not your President. But he is
the President of the United States of America.
No he isn’t!
Look, every state in the United States
accepts he’s the President.
Both chambers of the US Congress
accept he’s the President.
Every agency of the US government
accepts he is the President.
Even his opponents accept that he won the election.
No he didn’t. Hillary got more votes!
Hillary Clinton conceded defeat.
Getting the most votes doesn’t mean you win.
That’s not how their system works.
That’s now how our system works, okay?
Trump is the President. Now shut up!
Stupid Pete Woke Man.
[Off screen] It’s Wokeman!
[Off screen] Nazi!
See? I told you.
[Off screen] And you’re fat!
Anyway, PRESIDENT Donald Trump is in a dispute
with Twitter that’s really escalated over the last few weeks.
Before we get into that it’s important to acknowledge
that President Trump has benefited
enormously from the existence of Twitter.
President Obama was the first to have
an official Presidential Twitter account.
But Trump is seen as the first President
to really harness the power of social media.
His ability to speak directly to his base
and mobilise them to support him
on various issues is ALL thanks to Twitter.
Now Twitter, like pretty much all of the big
tech companies, is very, very left-wing.
And they can’t stand the idea of Trump in power.
All of the social media companies
have been deliberately pushing
their progressive agendas for years now.
But they’ve been very subtle about it.
Usually by tweaking their algorithms
so that left-wing voices are amplified,
and right with voices are minimised.
Let’s be clear here. Social media companies
are absolutely 100% allowed to do this.
It’s not against the law.
Companies can and do support
different political agendas.
And if these same social media companies
were controlled by the right wing,
you can bet your bottom dollar they’d be manipulating
the algorithms to promote their agendas too.
Anyway, the social media companies
have been very subtle in the past.
But, recently, Twitter decided they
weren’t going to be subtle anymore.
They disagree with President Trump,
and they don’t care who knows it!
Here’s how it all went down…
On the 26th of May 2020, Trump put out the
following Tweet to his 81 million followers:
Side Note: this is an interesting issue for us Brits
because here in the UK everyone has the right
to apply for what we call “Postal Voting”.
You don’t need to give a reason.
No justification is necessary.
You just need to contact your local “Returning Officer”
- that’s what we call the person
who runs elections in your area –
and sign a form confirming you want to vote by post.
And that’s it. No questions asked.
However, there have been scandals
related to postal voting in the UK.
And people have even got to jail
for co-ordinated postal vote fraud.
So, yeah, I can understand why there might be
concerns about mail-in ballots and voting fraud.
In response to the President’s Tweets, Twitter
added the following warning to his Tweets:
“Get the facts about mail-in ballots”
And if you clicked on that warning it took you to
a page stating that the President was wrong,
and showing a load of articles and
Tweets that disagreed with Trump.
And quite a few of them that basically called him a liar.
As you can imagine, President Trump was less
than happy about that, so he hit back at Twitter.
Ironically, on Twitter, to say the following:
And then, on the 28th of May 2020,
the President signed an Executive Order
regarding some of the legal protections
that social media companies enjoy.
Which he called “Executive Order
on Preventing Online Censorship”.
Basically, what President Trump was stating was that
if a social media company behaves like a “Publisher”
then they must accept the responsibilities
that come with being a “Publisher”.
Now there are two issues here.
I think Trump is 100% correct about one of them.
And absolutely 100% wrong about the other.
Firstly, let’s talk about where Trump is wrong.
This is not a free speech issue.
It absolutely isn’t about free speech because
free speech laws prevent the government
from limiting your freedom of expression.
Twitter is not the government.
It’s a private company and it can pretty much
publish whatever it wants on its own website.
It can delete photos. It can ban
users. That is 100% legal.
It can also, 100% legally, tell people
it disagrees with President Trump.
But, by doing so, it has made a massive strategic error.
The sheer stupidity of Twitter taking on
President Trump in this way is breath-taking.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump was basically
just waiting for Twitter to do something this idiotic.
Because now the President has a very powerful
legal opportunity to hit Twitter where it hurts.
To hit Twitter in the wallet.
Yes, this is absolutely about
money and about Twitter’s profits.
The legal aspect is complicated, as you’d expect,
but I’m going to try and explain
it in as simple a way as I can.
It’s all about the difference between
a “Publisher” and a “Platform”.
Imagine a fictional newspaper.
Let’s call it “The Daily Planet”.
Every day they’re sharing news and opinion with
their audience. That makes them a “Publisher”.
They are entirely responsible for
what’s written in the newspaper.
Now imagine one of their reporters wrote
an article about famous celebrity
but they didn’t check their facts properly
and they include a very obvious lie.
The reporter gives the article to their
Editor, and the Editor decides to print it.
They’ve printed a lie about someone and
then communicated that lie to the world.
They’ve defamed someone’s character.
That’s called a “libel” and they can be sued for it.
But who gets sued?
Is it the reporter? The Editor? Or the Newspaper itself?
The correct answer is: All three.
All three of them can be taken to court for
printing that lie.
That’s why journalists are supposed
to undergo years of training,
and newspaper Editors are very
careful about what they publish.
Because, if you defame someone’s character,
then you could end up losing a lot of money.
So newspapers need to be
careful they don’t spread lies.
However, certain people are immune from
prosecution even though they’re helping
the newspaper share that same lie.
You won’t be able to sue any
retailer who sells that newspaper.
You won’t be able to sue a library, for example,
for keeping a copy of that newspaper.
Why? Because by law they’re
not considered to be “Publishers”.
They are “Platforms” (or “Forums”).
And, as I mentioned earlier, there is a legal
difference between a Publisher and a Platform.
Here are a few examples of Publishers:
Bloggers: Yes, even if you have a personal website,
if you’re sharing news or opinion, you are
legally considered to be a Publisher.
And you are legally responsible
for what you put on that website.
Whereas, these are Platforms (or Forums).
They are not responsible for any libellous or
illegal content distributed using their services.
And in the USA this is all because of
The Communications Decency Act of 1996.
So why is it that social media companies are
not treated as Publishers under the law?
Why are they not legally responsible
for what’s posted on their websites?
Well, back when the internet was still taking off,
across different countries, various laws were introduced
to make the distinction between Publishers and Platforms.
And it made sense. If social media
companies were legally responsible for
their users’ posts, then they’d have to
check your posts before they went online.
This would mean three things:
If social media companies had the same
responsibilities as Publishers then
social media, as we know it today,
absolutely would not exist.
However, by law, they are treated as Platforms.
Basically they’re online Bulletin Boards.
So what makes Platforms different from Publishers?
Legally it’s complicated. I would sum it up as follows:
What does that mean?
Well, firstly, they don’t delay your
posts before they are communicated.
You type something into Twitter
and it appears immediately.
Whereas, a newspaper – a Publisher – might delay
or even block an article from being published.
Secondly, they aren’t allowed
to change what you’ve posted.
Your Twitter posts should appear
exactly as you wrote them.
They do not add to, or delete
anything from, your Tweets.
A newspaper, on the other hand, being a Publisher,
will often change a reporter’s
words before printing them.
A couple of things worth keeping in mind though.
Firstly, Platforms do have a responsibility
to delete any illegal material that is posted,
like libellous statements or copyright
infringements, if it’s brought to their attention.
Secondly, a Platform can have rules
about how YOU are allowed to use it.
And they have a right to delete material
that they consider unacceptable to them.
So if they want to ban nudity, or profanity,
from their Platform then they can.
And they are entitled to delete your posts or, ban
you from their services, if you break those rules.
So what’s all this got to do with Trump and Twitter?
Well, let me explain using an
extreme hypothetical example.
Let’s say that tomorrow Mark Zuckerberg joins PETA.
And he wants all of you to do the same.
So, Facebook decides it’s now a pro-Vegan Platform.
It is perfectly allowed to make that decision.
And it is perfectly allowed to
delete any anti-Vegan posts.
As a Platform it is allowed to do that.
Deleting posts is fine.
However, imagine that, instead
of deleting anti-Vegan posts,
Facebook starts adding pro-Vegan
messages to those posts.
Now it is no longer passively sharing communications.
It is actively interfering with anti-Vegan posts.
In that situation, Facebook is no
longer behaving like a Platform.
It has engaged in “Editorial Conduct”.
It is behaving like a Publisher.
And that is why Donald Trump is absolutely right.
By adding a message to his Tweets,
basically saying “The President is wrong!”
Twitter has crossed the line from Platform to Publisher.
And if it is a Publisher then
Twitter is legally responsible for
every word, every photo, every video,
that is posted on their website.
If Twitter is a publisher then they can be
punished for every libellous comment,
every copyright infringement, every incitement
to violence, that is posted on their website.
And, in a society as litigious as the USA, they
would very quickly go bankrupt if that was the case.
It’s what happened to Gawker,
and it could happen to Twitter too.
Which is exactly why Twitter
have been utterly moronic
in trying to take on Donald Trump in this way.
They have made a massive strategic error.
Their shareholders should be
absolutely furious with them right now
because, by playing politics, they’ve opened
themselves up to potential disaster.
That’s not an exaggeration. Twitter
could go bankrupt and cease to exist.
What’s truly bizarre is that Twitter don’t
seem to understand the seriousness
of the mistake they’ve already made.
And now they are, apparently, doubling down
because the very next day
Twitter accused the President of “glorifying violence”
and hid one of his Tweets.
The message in question used the phrase
“when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
What’s interesting is that the same
message was posted on Facebook,
who made the decision to not
interfere with the President’s post.
So it looks like Twitter seems to be the only social
media giant going to war with the President.
Was President Trump glorifying violence?
Personally I don’t think he was.
And any of you who studied civics or law will
know that there are two kinds of violence:
Legitimate violence and illegitimate violence.
And every nation on earth basically
agrees to the principle that:
And who is the Head of State?
Well that would be a certain Donald J Trump.
His Tweet wasn’t glorifying violence.
It was assuring people that the government
was willing to use legitimate violence
to maintain law and order.
The President isn’t just legally entitled to do
that, it’s actually part of his job to do that.
But Twitter seems to have decided
that they are going to war with Trump,
and they don’t seem too worried about civics or the law.
Now, because he’s taking aim
at an online media company,
some Trump opponents have claimed that
the President is violating the First Amendment.
I think that’s absolute nonsense.
President Trump isn’t telling Twitter
what they can and can’t say.
He is telling Twitter that they have additional
legal responsibilities if they actively choose
to be part of the political discourse.
He’s not changing the rules. He’s saying
the existing rules apply to Twitter as well.
Personally speaking, as a neutral, I think President
Trump’s interpretation of the law is 100% correct.
I also think social media companies would be
better off staying away from political posturing
and leave the editorializing to, you know…
the newspapers, and broadcasters, and real journalists.
People who know what they’re doing
and have been doing it for decades.
So… that’s it. That’s the end. You may now
post your comments under this video
accusing me of being either a communist, or a
nazi, depending on your personal political bias.
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I’ve got plenty more videos of the way
I am on Twitter. But who knows
how long that’s going to last.
So you should probably follow me on Facebook!