Friday, November 27, 2020

Trump tweets that "Section 230 must be immediately terminated", "for National Security purposes", on Thanksgiving night; is he talking about anything "new"?


Donald Trump wrote a bizarre tweet on Thanksgiving Day, at 11 PM, “For purposes of National Security, Section 230 must be immediately terminated”, link.

I found out about it in a tweet from Tim Pool “what Trump is calling for would destroy independent media overnight”. 

Section 230 shields platforms from most liability for user posts, but the more subtle second provision is that it allows platforms to moderate content in good faith without liability.

I’m not sure why Trump mentions “national security” so boldly.  One possibility is that “gratuitous content” from speakers with no direct interest or authority over a national security matter (say power grid security, which I talk about, or even theories as to how the pandemic started in China) might entice bad actors to carry them out.  This concern was noted shortly after 9/11 with discussions about “steganography”, but it quickly faded.  There was a bizarre incident at the end of 2005 when I was substitute teaching that may illustrate this concern, about “gratuitous” content, however unpredictably, enticing an unstable person into committing a crime or dangerous act.

It’s hard to imagine that Trump could have been thinking this (although there is some history with the North Korea threat, especially in early 2018, that I would wonder about).  One commentator said on Twitter that he might be thinking of Tiktok or Wechat  -- but most platforms don’t have that connection to China.  (Also, there is a new report that Astra-Zenecka has just been hacked by North Korea, unsuccessfully, but that sound unlikely to be related.) 

Also, there is a question of hosting companies, who are protected by the first prong of 230, but who don’t moderate content so the second prong doesn’t apply.  Even Blogger (which this post is on) is more like a hosted platform than what we usually see as social media;  Google doesn’t moderate it in any meaningful way.

CNN has a video by Jon Sarlin explaining both Trump’s and Biden’s opposition to 230 (from Sept. 15).   Biden sounds plainly hostile.  But his complaint is mainly about fake news and radicalization (content that “sane” people ignore, like Qanon, but that others take action on – PizzaGate, etc).

Trump did issue a limited executive order in May, which didn’t really do much.  Trump was trying to allow “free speech” for conservatives, given big tech deplatformings of conservative speakers (but some have been against radical Leftists, too).

It’s not clear if Trump is “threatening” some kind of order now.

The major newspapers hadn’t reacted to the tweet as of Black Friday morning (no pun).  The Post has a generic story yesterday mentioning Biden’s opposition to 230.  But the New York Times had run an op-ed by EFF’s Elliot Harmon on Oct 16.  Big Tech, he warned, could become more like a regular publisher and not allow a lot of people to have accounts at all, based on their “social credit”. Of course, the Senate has held two recent hearings on 230 (Oct 28, Nov 17). 

Imagine (as I hinted in a post yesterday) if you had to “raise money” for nonprofits or needy children (think, the inequities of the pandemic)  in your own name before you were allowed to express your own views.  (Think of Angela Merkel’s recent statement that for you to express an opinion in public does not come at “zero cost”).

In general, remember, the “Left”, as it is today, doesn’t value “free speech” by individuals the way the moderate Right does.  (The alt-right, it gets more complicated and more tribal.)  The Left wants organizing into movements, protests, and actions, not speech.  In a way, it’s a twist of “skin in the game”.

 Later Friday, CNN wrote that this tweet was an example of Trump's "misinformation" and that the reference to national security is unclear, and all networks are reporting that Trump could be a security risk himself when leaving office. 

Picture: "Protest" sign in Lafayette Park in Jan 2017 shortly after Trump's inauguration. 


Bill Boushka said...

Tim Lee, from Ars Tecbnica, raised this question Dec. 1 and wrote in a response that Trump had threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act unless Congress "terminates" Section 230, so the threat is circular

Bill Boushka said...

Here's a source from the Wall Street Journal Congress could presumably override the video