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Republican lawmakers reveal bids to strip Twitter of federal protection from what users post

Two Republican lawmakers announced Wednesday they are working on legislation that would hold Twitter more liable for what is posted after the social media platform flagged two of Donald Trump’s tweets.

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley made separate announcements of their upcoming legislation that would get rid of current federal protections for Twitter that ensure the tech giant is not held responsible for what its users post.

They duo claimed that Twitter’s decision to flag the president’s tweets, and fact check content in general, brings up questions over its legal liability protections.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, noted in both Republican’s announcements, protects social media platforms from facing lawsuits over what its users post.

On Gaetz’s podcast, Hot Takes with Matt Gaetz, on Wednesday, the Florida conservative announced that he is working on a bill that will prevent social media giants – including Facebook, Twitter and Google – from fact-checking content on their platforms, or else face legal retaliation.

‘[Social media sites] enjoy liability protections that are not enjoyed by your local newspaper or your local TV station, or Fox News, or CNN, or MSNBC,’ Gaetz said. ‘They have special benefits under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as digital platforms because they’re not creating content for which they should be liable.’

‘They’re not making decisions about content, they’re simply saying come one, come all with your content. And as a consequence of that, they’re getting a bunch of protections,’ the Trump ally noted.

Josh Hawley

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (left) and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (right) announced separately on Wednesday they are preparing legislation to remove federal protections for social media sites under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

'You are not a platform. You are doing something else. You are editorializing,' Gaetz said on his podcast after Twitter flagged two of President Donald Trump's tweets as 'misleading'

‘You are not a platform. You are doing something else. You are editorializing,’ Gaetz said on his podcast after Twitter flagged two of President Donald Trump’s tweets as ‘misleading’

Hawley also claimed in tweets and a letter sent to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey that Twitter should be treated more like a publisher that is held liable for the posts users make on its platform

Hawley also claimed in tweets and a letter sent to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey that Twitter should be treated more like a publisher that is held liable for the posts users make on its platform

But Gaetz and Hawley, along with other Republicans, argue that by Twitter and other social media sites fact-checking what users post, they are ultimately acting as a news source by flagging what they deem true, or factual and reliable, or not.

‘I am currently working with my Republican colleagues on the [House] Judiciary Committee to draft legislation to say that if you are going to opine to the truth or falsity of that which is put on your platform for the sake of its viewers, you do not get the protections of Section 230. You are not a platform. You are doing something else. You are editorializing,’ Gaetz said on his podcast.

Hawley directed his message about his separate legislation toward Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, insisting that the platform should be treated as a publisher.

‘@jack a few questions for you below. Bottom line: Why should @twitter continue to get special treatment from government as a mere distributor of other people’s content if you are going to editorialize and comment like a publisher? Shouldn’t you be treated like publisher?’ Hawley wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

SECTION 230 OF THE COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT

THE TEXT: ‘No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider’

WHAT IT MEANS: Social media platforms are not held legally liable for what their users post, and instead are considered an outlet where people can post whatever they want – within the guidelines of their terms of service

He included an image of a letter he sent to Dorsey.

‘I will introduce legislation to end these special government giveaways,’ the Missouri senator wrote in a second tweet. ‘If @Twitter wants to editorialize & comment on users’ posts, it should be divested of its special status under federal law (Section 230) & forced to play by same rules as all other publishers. Fair is fair.’

Hawley questioned if Dorsey’s’fact check’ was part of an effort to ‘target the President for political reasons.’ He also raised concerns that Twitter fact-checkers were biased against Trump.

The president posted two tweets on Tuesday about mail-in voting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that California was sending out ballots to everyone in the state.

He was using the decision by California to hold a fully-mail-in election to reup his assertion that this measure will lead to an increase in voter fraud and disproportionately benefit Democrats in the 2020 election.

Shortly after the tweets were sent, Twitter flagged both in the thread with blue exclamation points, prompting users to ‘get the facts about mail-in ballots.’

Once people click on that link, they are redirected to a page with a story at the top from CNN that claims Trump’s assertions in the tweets are ‘unsubstantiated.’

It also includes bullet points of ‘what you need to know’ about Twitter flagging the tweets, and within the bullets it claims Trump’s tweets were ‘false’ and cites ‘fact-checkers’ from other news sources who analyzed the tweets.

The president said Twitter was attempting to interfere in the 2020 presidential elections by labeling his tweets as ‘misleading’ and asserted they are continuing in an effort to ‘totally silence conservative voices.’ 

Trump is also preparing to sign an executive order that will expose social media sites to government investigations into allegations of bias and other lawsuits.

‘This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!’ the president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview that will air Thursday afternoon that his social media site will not act as an 'arbiter of truth' – suggesting Twitter's CEO Dorsey is doing just that by flagging certain tweets

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview that will air Thursday afternoon that his social media site will not act as an ‘arbiter of truth’ – suggesting Twitter’s CEO Dorsey is doing just that by flagging certain tweets

Dorsey responded to Zerberg's claims in a series of tweets, claiming Twitter will 'continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections,' but said this does not make him the arbiter of truth. 'Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,' he asserted

Dorsey responded to Zerberg’s claims in a series of tweets, claiming Twitter will ‘continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections,’ but said this does not make him the arbiter of truth. ‘Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,’ he asserted

Twitter posted a blue exclamation mark alert underneath two of the president's tweets abot mail-in voting on Tuesday, prompting readers to 'get the facts about mail-in ballots'

Twitter posted a blue exclamation mark alert underneath two of the president’s tweets abot mail-in voting on Tuesday, prompting readers to ‘get the facts about mail-in ballots’

Once users click on the warning, they are redirected to a page explaining why Twitter has deemed the tweet unsubstantiated – as well as a slew of news stories that back up that claim

Once users click on the warning, they are redirected to a page explaining why Twitter has deemed the tweet unsubstantiated – as well as a slew of news stories that back up that claim

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a yet-to-air interview with Fox News that he would not act as an ‘arbiter of truth’ with his platform, suggesting that is what Dorsey did by flagging the tweets.

Dorsey defended his company’s decision to flag the tweets after Zuckerberg’s comments went public, claiming it increasing transparency for users.

‘We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make,’ Dorsey asserted on his Twitter profile.

‘This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth,” he continued. ‘Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.’ 

Supporters of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act claim it is the most important legal provision to protect free speech online.

It also come under fire from Attorney General Bill Barr in February when he claimed it enables child exploitation on the internet.

Lawmakers introduced legislation a month after Barr raised his own concerns that would hold these tech companies accountable for images and videos of child abuse posted to their platforms.

The proposal from a coalition of members of Congress faced strong pushback from tech advocates and others who support Section 230.

 

Read Hawley's letter to Dorsey

Read Hawley’s letter to Dorsey

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