Sen. Hawley: Twitter should lose special legal immunity

by WorldTribune Staff, May 28, 2020

In a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, a Republican senator questioned why the social media company should continue to receive legal immunity after editorializing President Donald Trump’s tweets.

Twitter’s decision to fact check Trump’s tweets on the potential for widespread fraud in vote-by-mail raises “serious questions” about whether the social media giant targeted the president for political reasons, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said.

Sen. Josh Hawley. / YouTube

“Twitter’s unprecedented decision to single out the President for disfavor, based on his political speech, is alarming,” Hawley wrote.

“Yesterday, for the first time ever, Twitter branded the President’s tweets with a ‘fact check’ designed to encourage readers to believe that the President’s political speech was inaccurate. Twitter’s decision to editorialize regarding the content of political speech raises questions about why Twitter should continue receiving special status and special immunity from publisher liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.”

Twitter’s so-called “fact check” of Trump was carried out by anti-Trump outlets CNN and The Washington Post, which contend that concerns over vote-by-mail fraud are unsubstantiated even though there have been several reports in recent years detailing such fraud.

Fox News reported on May 15 that thousands of ballots in Nevada’s largest county were being sent to inactive voters “and the envelopes are piling up in post office trays, outside apartment complexes and on community bulletin boards in and around Las Vegas. The excess ballots have drawn complaints from local residents, who worry that anyone could pick up a ballot off the street and cast a fraudulent vote.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act regulates social media platforms as neutral platforms. “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” the regulation states.

In his letter to Dorsey, Hawley noted: “Your company is treated very differently from publishers, as you know. Traditional publishers are liable when they mess up. But under Section 230, Twitter receives a special government carve-out that shields it from liability. That statute tells courts to treat Twitter like a passive distributor of third-party content. Twitter’s decision to affix its own editorial content to users’ posts brings into question the basis for that immunity.”

The senator continued: “It makes little sense to treat companies that publish their editorial comments about others’ content as if they are mere distributors. Companies that act like publishers should be treated like publishers. Section 230 should not treat Twitter and neutral Internet service providers in the same way when they function so differently.”

Hawley asked Dorsey to “explain why you think that companies that act like publishers should not be treated like publishers.”

Hawley noted that Yoel Roth, Twitter’s so-called Head of Site Integrity, encouraged people to “fly over” states such as Missouri because fly over states allegedly “voted for a racist tangerine.” Roth also said that people that work for Trump are “actual Nazis.”

Hawley added that Twitter has also yet to counter the “outright lies and propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party” and other politicians.

Hawley asked Dorsey if his company plans to fact check former Vice President Joe Biden and other politicians’ potential falsehoods: “What about other candidates for political office, like former Vice-President Joe Biden? Will Twitter editorialize regularly in response to his comments on social media? Or will Twitter only go after people its employees dislike?”

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