U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping arrive for a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017(REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping arrive for a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017(REUTERS)

In Donald Trump’s order to raise bar for social media giants, China is the ammo

Donald Trump’s order that seeks to limit liability protections social-media companies enjoy targeted China for its disinformation campaign
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Shishir Gupta
UPDATED ON MAY 29, 2020 07:22 PM IST

US President Donald Trump on Thursday signed off on an executive order that seeks to restrict protection to social media companies and underlines the need to seek “transparency and accountability” from these platforms. The order is centered around the argument that social media companies that selectively remove or restrict access to content engage in editorial conduct and should not be shielded by limited liability protection extended to them for users’ posts.

Trump, who has often complained about liberal-leaning Silicon Valley companies targeting conservatives by fact-checking them or removing their posts, issued the order days after Twitter started selective fact-checks of his posts and labeled two of them about mail-in voting “potentially misleading”.

To make his point, Trump’s order also targeted China.

These tech companies, he said, instead of censoring China for promoting aggression and disinformation had profited from it.

“One United States company, for example, created a search engine for the Chinese Communist Party that would have blacklisted searches for “human rights,” hid data unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party, and tracked users determined appropriate for surveillance. It also established research partnerships in China that provide direct benefits to the Chinese military,” the US President said. He did not name Google.

Trump also referenced the social media campaign launched by Beijing after he held China responsible for the coronavirus pandemic and more.

Companies had accepted advertisements paid for by the Chinese government that spread false information about its mass imprisonment of religious minorities. “They have also amplified China’s propaganda abroad, including by allowing Chinese government officials to use their platforms to spread misinformation regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong,” his order said.

White House officials, according to Bloomberg, complained that Twitter did not originally append fact checks to China Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lijan Zhao, who without evidence wrote that “it might be” the U.S. military that brought the coronavirus to China. Twitter has since added the fact-check link to his tweets.

Trump later followed up on the China angle of his order, telling reporters that China could have stopped the coronavirus from stopping but did not. He has promised to have a dedicated briefing on China tomorrow.

At his briefing, Trump said the choices that Twitter makes when it chooses to suppress, edit, blacklist, shadow, ban are editorial decisions, pure and simple and should be treated as such. They are editorial decisions.

“In those moments, Twitter ceases to be a neutral public platform, and they become an editor with a viewpoint,” he asserted.

His order quoted the Supreme Court that had compared social media sites to a modern public square where any citizen could say anything to make his or her voice heard. This is the reason why social media platforms were held to a lower accountability bar.

But the platforms were not only selectively calling out users - or say people in a public square - but also taking money to promote access to false content.

The US President has asked all government departments and agencies to review advertising and marketing spending on online platforms to “protect” federal taxpayer dollars from financing online platforms that restrict free speech.

Trump also asked a Attorney General-led Working Group to initiate discussions with counterparts in the states that would look at the 16,000-plus complaints of online platforms censoring received from people by the White House’s Tech Bias Reporting tool launched in May 2019.

This group would also collect material about algorithms to suppress content or users based on their political views and differential policies allowing for otherwise impermissible behavior committed by accounts linked to the Chinese Communist Party or other autocratic regimes.

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