Friday, October 16, 2020

Twitter in trouble: Big Tech censorship, illegal in-kind donation, and Section 230

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The Federal Communications Commission's chairman said Thursday that the agency will seek to clarify regulations affecting social media, a move that could lead to the powerful companies behind the platforms becoming subject to the same rules as publishers.⁣ ⁣ In a tweet Thursday, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said the FCC will initiate “rulemaking to clarify” the meaning of Section 230 of the 1934 Communications Act after the Trump administration earlier this year filed a petition, contesting the legal shields afforded to social media companies – a move celebrated by GOP officials who believe social media is politically biased.⁣ ⁣ “Members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed serious concerns about the prevailing interpretation of the immunity set forth in Section 230,” Pai said in a statement Thursday.⁣ ⁣ Go to the link in our bio for more on this story.

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The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Friday filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) claiming that Twitter’s censorship of a New York Post story amounted to an “illegal corporate in-kind contribution” to the Joe Biden presidential campaign. Facebook and Twitter decided to censor a New York Post article saying that, contrary to Biden’s claims, Biden allegedly met with an executive at Burisma when he was vice president. Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, reportedly arranged the meeting while he was working as a lobbyist for the company. Fox News obtained the FEC complaint in which the RNC wrote that “Twitter has violated FECA and the Commission’s Regulations by making corporate in-kind contributions to Biden for President.” The RNC charged that Twitter “is a partisan actor, run by partisan Democrats” and is “using its corporate resources to provide active support for Joe Biden’s campaign in violation of federal law.” The GOP group demanded that the FEC conduct an investigation into Twitter’s “illegal in-kind contributions to the Biden campaign” and “impose the maximum penalty allowed under the law.” The RNC’s complaint follows as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) urged the FEC Acting General Counsel Lisa Stevenson to investigate Twitter’s impression of the New York Post story. Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) moved to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey through the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Biden campaign claimed on Thursday that the New York Post story is “false” because Twitter censored it. Jamal Brown, the national press secretary for the Biden campaign, said, “Twitter’s response to the actual article itself makes clear that these purported allegations are false and are not true.” Dorsey admitted on Friday that blocking links to the New York Post story was “wrong.” “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that,” he said.

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The subpoena would require the Twitter @twitter executive to testify on Oct. 23 before the committee, according to the Republicans who announced the hearing. GOP lawmakers are singling out Twitter because it prevented users from posting links to the articles, which the Post said were based on email exchanges with Hunter Biden, the Democratic candidate’s son, provided by allies of President Trump. Those people in turn said they received them from a computer-repair person who found them on a laptop, according to the Post. The Wall Street Journal hasn’t independently verified the Post articles. “This is election interference, and we are 19 days out from an election,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a committee member who discussed the subpoena with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), told reporters. “Never before have we seen active censorship of a major press publication with serious allegations of corruption of one of the two candidates for president.” The unprecedented censorship of the past few days was catalyzed by a scramble to suppress the New York Post’s publication of material indicating that Joe Biden, while Vice President, met with an executive at Burisma, the Ukrainian gas giant for which his son Hunter Biden worked. The former VP previously said, “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” The meeting occurred in the same year that Biden, in his own words, pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a state prosecutor that had been investigating the company.

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...A related issue was the reaction of Big Tech to the revelations. Both Twitter and Facebook overtly limited or banned distribution of the New York Post articles. Twitter locked out White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s personal account, and put a warning on a tweet from the Republican House Judiciary Committee. New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari called it a “Big Tech information coup” and “digital civil war.” But the Tech Lords went too far. Critics called their actions domestic election interference, or an in-kind campaign contribution to Joe Biden. The White House said it is “very much looking into” some form of executive action by the Justice Department or Department of Commerce. Senate Republicans called for hearings next week in which heads of social media companies would be forced to testify under oath about the suppression of the Post stories. There was also renewed interest in reviewing the special immunity claimed by social media companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects the companies from liability for material posted by users. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted “I intend to move forward with an FCC rulemaking to clarify the meaning of Section 230,” with a view towards shutting down this special statue. Great job tech wizards, maybe you aren’t as smart as your hype suggests.