On Thursday, the President signed an executive order which will turn up the heat on the giant social media corporations who are currently curtailing the free speech of Americans in order to advance their own political and business goals. This has always been discouraged, but there were no enforcement teeth which could truly tame these media megaliths. Until now.
We'll do our best to explain what we think this means, since you're going to be hearing wild distortions and misrepresentations about this executive order. Which, come to think of it, is nothing new - and exactly why this executive order is so important.
Currently, there is something called "Section 230 Protection" which says that Twitter, Facebook, Google, and similar services are "platforms" which host content, but do not control it. In this way, they avoid any legal liability for what is said by others using that platform. It was the government's way of trying to guarantee that speech would remain free.
Other platforms would be the phone company which doesn't censor your calls, or jump into a conversation to "fact check" what you're saying. Similarly, the postal service is a platform which delivers your letters without redacting parts they don't like, or just banning you from using their service. Simply put, a platform is simply a delivery system with no editorial control...and therefore no liability for the content that is transmitted.
BUT, at the point content is edited, manipulated, labeled as untrue, or banned entirely, the entity in charge is no longer a platform but is instead a publisher - a status which is not protected by Section 230.
Despite what we see in the NY Times, publishers are not allowed to make up or propagate lies and smears about a person, company, or news event without legal consequence. They can (and should!) be sued for libel when that happens, because they're responsible for everything that appears on their printed page or website.
Trump's executive order clarifies and updates Section 230 to make these distinctions clear: if you're a platform allowing everyone to post whatever they want, you're shielded from liability. If you're a publisher, editing, changing, "correcting," or banning content, then you're going to share the legal liability for all of the content that you've "chosen" to publish.
If the executive order manages to stick, social media sites will have to go back to letting citizens air their views, right or wrong, without encumbrance. More importantly, they'll have to stop shifting and slanting information for the express purpose of manipulating the minds and votes of the American people. And it couldn't happen at a more crucial time.
BONUS: FRIDAY FOOLISHNESS
Wow, we didn't mean to go on so long (and so humorlessly) about the story above, but it's an important one. Still, Friday deserves a lighter touch, so we present you with another edition of...