President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened social media companies with new regulation or even shuttering a day after Twitter added fact checks to two of his tweets. (May 27)
No tweet alert this time. Word came from the president’s spokeswoman herself directly to reporters traveling on Air Force One with President Trump: The president plans to sign an executive order on social media in the morning.
This comes a day after the president’s tweets decrying mail-in ballots as fertile for fraud had a fact-check label appended.
Earlier on Wednesday, the president had promised “big action” in response, asserting that social media platforms “totally silence conservatives voices,” threatening to “strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”
So what could Thursday’s action actually be? Social media are public companies and not typically subject to executive orders.
“Presidents can do anything,” says Karen North, a professor of social media at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. “But there are checks and balances, and whatever he signs is likely to be challenged by Congress and the courts.”
She figures that Trump’s order will ban social media companies from “censoring and editorializing against users. It would be an anti-censorship order.”
Trump and Democrat rivals have also called for a regulated Twitter, as well as Facebook and YouTube. But what would that look like?
Trump could push for changes to the Communications Decency Act, which lets companies like Facebook and Twitter off the hook for the content created by their users. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey a letter Wednesday suggesting just that and urged fellow lawmakers to put an end to the “sweetheart deal.”
Big Tech: Break up or regulate?
Several senators have called for breaking up the social media companies, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on a bill in an election year is unlikely.
The government currently regulates television and radio stations by awarding licenses, through the Federal Communications Commission, to access the United States airwaves.
But social media companies are private businesses, and the government doesn’t routinely sweep in and overtake private enterprises. “The FCC couldn’t interfere with private business,” says North.
Social media, she adds, is not a utility. The companies “have rules to abide by on their platform. You have the decision to use them or not.”
A hypothetically regulated Twitter, one that had computer bots that would search for and disallow certain phrases, “is something you’d see in a Communist country, not here,” says Brian Solis, an author and analyst.
Bottom line: Even after all the screaming and potential changes, Twitter still “wouldn’t look much different from today,” says Gene Munster, an investor and analyst with Loup Ventures. “Policing truth and hate speech in social media is unsolvable.”
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter.
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