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President Trump issues an executive order to strip Twitter; others of legal immunity for content posted by users; as UN condemns police brutality on unarmed African-American

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  • Trump complains that social media leaders are liberal-leaning,
  • Has 80 million followers on Twitter
  • Says “There’s so much fake news, it’s disgraceful,”.
  • Expressed his desire to see Twitter disappear altogether — if he had any way to make this happen
  • If this was enacted, the likes of Twitter and Facebook would become open to lawsuits and greatly increased government regulation.
  • United Nations condemns police brutality and the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, says it is the latest in “a long line of killings of unarmed African Americans by US police officers and members of the public”.
  • United States president,  Donald Trump has signed the Executive Order on DOT deregulation, during a meeting with his cabinet in the White House.  Trump who was angered recently after Twitter tagged one of his tweets for the first time with a fact-check notice — said regulation was needed because the companies are no longer neutral forums but engaging in “political activism.” The New York Times reports that ‘’Much of Trump’s order consists of complaints about social media companies and their efforts to flag or remove content deemed inappropriate. Here is an explanation of the legal issues surrounding the components of the order that would — or might — do something.’’

According to Trump, such platforms have “unchecked power to censor, restrict… virtually any form of communication between private citizens.” “We can’t let that happen,” he said, “especially when they go about doing what they’re doing because they’re doing things incorrectly, they have points of view.” The president’s ire appeared especially focused on fact-checking services that big social media platforms have added in an effort to weed out rampant disinformation and so-called “fake news.”

This, he said, made the companies into traditional publishers, therefore liable for whatever material they host. “The choices that Twitter makes when it chooses to suppress… editorial decisions pure and simple,” he said. “In those moments, Twitter ceases to be a neutral public platform and they become an editor with a viewpoint and I think we can say that about others also, whether you’re looking at Google, whether you’re looking at Facebook, perhaps others.” According to Trump, his executive order aims to “uphold the free speech and rights of the American people.”

However, before this could go into effect it will face strong political opposition and Trump conceded it would get challenged in court. Opponents say Trump’s aim is to tame the same social media platforms on which he is easily the biggest political presence in the country, cowing their attempts to reduce misinformation. While Trump complains that social media leaders are liberal-leaning, he enjoys an overwhelming presence on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and other outlets for his streams of often factually incorrect posts and crude insults against opponents.

Asked why he wouldn’t just walk away from Twitter, where he has 80 million followers, Trump said he would, except that he relies on the platform to bypass the traditional media, which he complained is unfair. “There’s so much fake news, it’s disgraceful,” he told the journalists covering him in the Oval Office. Trump even mused about his desire to see Twitter disappear altogether — if he had any way to make this happen. “If it were able to be legally shut down, I’d do it,” he said.

What protects social media companies?

The New York Times states further that ‘’A 1996 law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act essentially bars people from suing providers of an “interactive computer service” for libel if users post defamatory messages on their platforms. It says intermediary website operators — a category ranging from social media giants like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to blogs that let readers post comments — will not be treated as the publisher or the speaker for making others’ posts available. A related provision also protects the sites from lawsuits accusing them of wrongfully taking down content. It gives them immunity for “good faith” decisions to remove or restrict posts they deem “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”.

The order argues that if a site restricts access to others’ content in bad faith and goes beyond removing the types of objectionable content detailed in the law, it should be deemed a publisher rather than a neutral platform — thus losing its legal immunity from lawsuits. If this vision were the law, it would mean that social media companies could be sued for defamatory content over what other people post on their platforms. For example, because Mr. Trump has used Twitter to falsely insinuate that the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a congressional aide in 2001, Mr. Scarborough could in theory accuse Twitter of libel — if he could also make the case that Twitter met Mr. Trump’s criteria for being an editor.

Protesters ask US govt to take stern measures to halt police killings of unarmed African Americans

Meanwhile, the United Nations has through its human rights chief on has condemned the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd while in police custody in the city of Minneapolis, calling it the latest in “a long line of killings of unarmed African Americans by US police officers and members of the public”.

UN News quotes the UN Human Rights chief as stating that: ”I am dismayed to have to add George Floyd’s name to that of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many other unarmed African Americans who have died over the years at the hands of the police – as well as people such as Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin who were killed by armed members of the public”, said High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in statement. She spelled out that authorities in the United States must take “serious action” to stop such killings, and to ensure that justice is done when they do occur. “Procedures must change, prevention systems must be put in place, and above all police officers who resort to excessive use of force, should be charged and convicted for the crimes committed”, the High Commissioner underscored.

A probe prioritized: The UN human rights chief welcomed the announcement by Federal authorities in Washington, that they would be prioritizing an investigation into the incident, but stressed that “in too many cases in the past, such investigations have led to killings being deemed justified on questionable grounds, or only being addressed by administrative measures.”  “The role that entrenched and pervasive racial discrimination plays in such deaths must also be fully examined, properly recognized and dealt with”, she added.

Erupting protests: The killing has sparked violent protests in Minnesota’s largest city, with hundreds of demonstrators clashing with police clad in riot gear, over two nights of unrest. Video captured at the scene on Monday, and posted on social media, shows a white police officer, using his knee to pin Mr. Floyd to the ground over the course of several minutes. Four officers involved in the incident have been dismissed, but none have so far been charged. The city’s Mayor, Jacob Frey, has appealed for calm, writing on Twitter that “we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy”.

Violence won’t end police brutality: While empathizing with the anger unleashed by Mr. Floyd’s killing, the top UN rights official encouraged people in Minneapolis and elsewhere to protest peacefully.  “Violence and destruction of property won’t solve the problem of police brutality and enshrined discrimination”, she said.  “I urge protestors to express their demands for justice peacefully, and I urge the police to take utmost care not enflame the current situation even more with any further use of excessive force”, concluded the High Commissioner.