Despite recently issuing an executive order threatening legal penalties for social media platforms, President Trump’s fight with Twitter continued last week, after the social media platform removed a campaign video tribute to George Floyd, citing copyright infringements.
The video that was removed by Twitter included a compilation of images of demonstrations, riots and photos of police and protesters over an audio track of the president calling for unity following the killing of George Floyd.
Twitter explained its decision in a statement, saying, “Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives.”
The video is still posted on Facebook and YouTube, marking a stark difference in how platforms are handling the president’s posts.
Last Wednesday, Snap Inc. announced it would stop promoting Trump’s account in Snapchat’s “Discover” category, a function that allows users to explore new content. The company said it would “not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover.”
Soon thereafter, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale accused Snapchat of “trying to rig the 2020 election” and “actively engaging in voter suppression” by refusing to promote his account. “If you’re a conservative, they do not want to hear from you, they do not want you to vote. They view you as a deplorable and they do not want you to exist on their platform,” Parscale of Snap’s leadership.
Snapchat’s decision followed the president’s social media messages messages last week referring to violent protesters as “thugs,” and threatening to unleash “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” on unruly demonstrations.
Twitter placed a warning on one of those statements about “thugs,” saying the president’s tweet violated the company’s rules on “glorifying violence.”
….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
However, the platform did not completely remove the tweet, saying it “may be in the public’s interest” to make it accessible.
In addition, Twitter put a fact-check label on another Trump tweet, in which he claimed the use of mail-in ballots would cause widespread fraud. Trump responded to the fact-check action, saying it was equivalent to election interference.
There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
Republican lawmakers filed a resolution condemning Twitter’s alleged “partisan censorship.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey added the fact-check “does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth.'” He said the warning was meant to provide additional information to the public, and to let people “judge for themselves.”
One again, the statements that were contested by Twitter and then deemed inflammatory by Snapchat went unchecked on Facebook.
This does not make us an “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. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Last year, Twitter announced that it would no longer host political ads.
On the other hand, Facebook decided to keep them, and said it would not fact-check such content.
Facebook employees quickly denounced that decision, accusing Zuckerberg of allowing the president to “weaponize” the platform.
Last week, Zuckerberg’s reluctance to act on Trump’s comments about George Floyd protests led to hundreds of the company’s employees staging a virtual walkout.
Zuckerberg later explained, “[W]e read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,” he wrote.
Two weeks ago, President Trump signed an executive order threatening social media companies who he claimed engage in “online censorship.”
The main part of the executive order threatens to remove internet companies’ legal liability under Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act if they engage in “censorship” or deceive the public about being an “open forum for debate.”
Both Twitter and Facebook have repeatedly argued that free speech is a key part of their platforms, while adding standards in an effort to minimize violent content, explicit content and harassment, sometimes at the government’s request.
Under current law, companies like Facebook and Twitter cannot be sued for the content posted by its users.
Trump’s executive order seeks to treat social media companies as “publishers” instead of as neutral internet platforms, thereby exposing them to liability for what users communicate.