Just when it is thought the relationship between conservatives and social media platforms could get better, it went presidentially sour. On Wednesday, the US President Donald Trump threatened to ‘strongly regulate’ or shut down social media platforms for perceived attempts to muzzle conservatives.
“Republicans feel that Social Media platforms totally silence conservatives’ voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
This was coming after Twitter applied a fact-check to two of his previous tweets that called mail-in voting fraud. It is the first time the social media platform is putting a fact-check on Trump’s tweet, even though his tweets are believed to be full of controversies and unsubstantiated claims. The action appears to have triggered a threat response from Trump, escalating what members of the Republican Party believe to be an unfair treatment deliberately targeted at conservatives.
Trump came on full throttle, accusing the tech industry of getting involved in the 2020 elections. For weeks now, he has been campaigning against mail-in voting, saying it’s a fast way to rig the elections, and it shouldn’t be allowed.
“We can’t let large scale Mail-in Ballots take root in our Country. it would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, Now!!!” Trump tweeted.
After the 2016 elections, democrats were particularly angered by the amount of misinformation that social media platforms allowed during the election period, especially sponsored posts linked to Russia. Since then, the social media platforms have pledged to get rid of fake news and misinformation; removing accounts linked to misleading contents and promoting credible sources of information for counter-claims.
Trump has been caught in a series of misleading information through his social media accounts, a development that has repeatedly placed social media platforms in compromising situations. The outbreak of coronavirus reinforced the need for checks on contents in the social media space. Google, Facebook and Twitter stepped up their game and created techniques to minimize false information as much as possible.
However, the new approach appears more likely to aggravate the existing discord between social media platforms and the Republicans.
Early this month, Facebook inaugurated a team of independent experts to check contents put out on the platform. The move was understood to be one of the measures Facebook is using to calm the nerves of conservatives and change the perception that the platform is working in favor of their political opponents.
Trump has been pushing the ‘bias media’ rhetoric and has repeatedly promised to do something to remedy the situation. Earlier this month, he tweeted that the radical left is in control of the social media.
“The radical Left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google,” he tweeted. “The administration is working to remedy this illegal situation. Stay tuned, and send names & events.”
It is not known what Trump is going to do to remedy the situation since his options seem limited according to legal experts. Some believe he is going to leverage antitrust issues that many of the social media platforms have been caught up in recently. But agencies like the FCC and FTC are not ready to be pushed around for political interest yet. Trump’s earlier attempt to make them arbiters of politics has been resisted; suggesting that further attempts to get the commissions involved would hit a stone wall.
Andrew Schwartzman of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society said the most obvious action Trump would take would be to push for amendment of the Communication Decency Act which shields social media platforms from legal liability for many of the contents put out on them.
Trump’s options seem narrow as the FCC and FTC lack the jurisdiction to execute the kind of action he would want against Twitter and Facebook. With no law on his side to tackle what he called “stifling of free speech” by social media platforms, Trump appears to be picking a fight he’s already lost.
However, Trump’s recent attack on social media means he is escalating his fight with the media beyond the mainstream. But his outbursts on Twitter over his own misleading information are believed to be borne out of a concealed desire for media censorship.