Attorney General William Barr and the U.S. Department of Justice are now preparing to tell the owners of social media sites what they may and may not censor or remove from their platforms, especially if the postings come from President Donald Trump or any of his right-wing advocates.
The Washington Post reports that the DOJ has made a rare legislative proposal in which they ask Congress to remove protections for most social media companies such as Facebook or Twitter:
“The Justice Department asked Congress on Wednesday to adopt a new law that would hold Facebook, Google and Twitter legally accountable for the way they moderate content on the Web, as the Trump administration ratchets up its attacks on social media sites as the 2020 election approaches.
“The new request from the Justice Department came in the form of a rare, legislative proposal that specifically seeks to whittle down Section 230, a decades-old provision of federal law that spares websites from being held liable for content posted by their users — and immunizes some of their own decisions about what posts, photos and videos to leave up or take down.”
For years, Trump has asserted (without providing any proof) that tech companies are biased against conservatives and more likely to censor such postings while favoring liberals and giving their posts preferential treatment.
Now Barr is trying to codify Trump’s specious claims into law, issuing a statement which reads in part:
“For too long Section 230 has provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity. Ensuring that the internet is a safe, but also vibrant, open and competitive environment is vitally important to America.”
Trump’s bogus claims about favoritism being practiced by tech companies is clearly refuted by Tuesday’s tally of the day’s top 10 posts on Facebook:
The top-performing link posts by U.S. Facebook pages in the last 24 hours are from:
1. Franklin Graham
2. Ben Shapiro
3. Ben Shapiro
5. Ben Shapiro
7. Dan Bongino
8. Sean Hannity
9. David J. Harris Jr.
10. Donald Trump For President
— Facebook’s Top 10 (@FacebooksTop10) September 22, 2020
Ironically, Trump’s actions are likely to cause even more friction between him and social media platforms, which could prove damaging to the incumbent president this close to an election. The president depends on Twitter to fire up his base and spread conspiracy theories. But what will he do if Twitter decides to block or heavily censor all of his posts the closer we get to Election Day?
While it seems unlikely the DOJ’s proposal will ever become the law, just the fact that this administration is trying to attack social media companies is incredibly telling and suggests that if Trump wins a second term, he will appoint Barr to serve as the final arbiter of what is free speech and what is treason. That would be the beginning of a dictatorship, which is exactly what Trump has dreamed about since taking office.