FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Trump’s “Free Speech:” Doctrine: Never, Ever, Ever Mention He’s a Liar

On May 28, US president Donald Trump signed an executive order on “Preventing Online Censorship.” From the title and the document respectively we can draw to two lessons.

First: Never, ever, ever believe the title of a government document. The internal texts of congressional bills and resolutions, as well as executive branch orders, “findings,” intelligence “estimates,” etc. seldom have much, if anything, to do with their titles.

“A Bill to Protect Cats, and for Other Purposes” may or may not even mention cats outside of its opening justification paragraphs before it mutates into a swamp of of corporate welfare handouts, hidden tax increases, and Orwellian surveillance state provisions. An intelligence “estimate” or presidential “finding” that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction or that the Iranians are trying to build a nuclear weapon … well, you get how that stuff works, right?

Second: Never, ever, ever mention — at least in public — that Donald Trump is a liar. The purpose of the executive order is not to “prevent online censorship.” It’s to punish Twitter for “fact-checking” two of his tweets about voting by mail.

“Trump,” the “fact-check” title notes, “makes unsubstantiated claims that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.” That’s an incredibly polite way of saying that Trump tells new stories so wildly incompatible with his previous tales that “Trump’s lying again” is the only plausible way to interpret them.

Until a few weeks ago, Trump and his party defended mail contact with voters as the only way to PREVENT voter fraud. Now Trump says “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.”

Stripped of its empty self-congratulation and whiny victim-playing, Trump’s executive order is about the opposite of protecting free speech. It’s about “clarifying” — that is, neutering — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for material created by others: “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.”

Section 230, to put it as simply as possible, allows online platforms to operate without fear of being sued into bankruptcy for the actions of their users. If I libel you on Twitter or Facebook, you can sue me, but if you try to sue them you’ll lose. They’re not responsible for what I write.

Section 230’s protections aren’t dependent on a platform “purport[ing] to provide users a forum for free and open speech,” or on that platform being truthful if it does make such a claim, as the executive order implies. Platforms are free to set their own content policies, to ban users who violate those policies, and to notice and publicly mention that a user is a pathological liar who’s lying yet again, even if that user just happens to be the president of the United States.

If it withstood court challenges (it wouldn’t), Trump’s order would use the rule-making and spending power of the federal bureaucracy to punish, not protect, free speech.

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

Weekend Edition
August 07, 2020
Friday - Sunday
John Davis
The COVID Interregnum
Louis Yako
20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19
Patrick Cockburn
War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast
Eve Ottenberg
Fixing the COVID Numbers
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose
Paul Street
Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here
Robert Hunziker
The World on Fire
Rob Urie
Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left
John Laforge
USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany
Andrew Levine
Clyburn’s Complaint
Kavaljit Singh
Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19
Paul Ryder
Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again
T.J. Coles
Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet
David Macaray
Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?
Conn Hallinan
What’s Driving the Simmering Conflict Between India and China
Joseph Natoli
American Failures: August, 2020
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?
Bruce Hobson
The US Left Needs Humility to Understand Mexican Politics
David Rosen
Easy Targets: Trump’s Attacks on Transgendered People
Ben Debney
The Neoliberal Virus
Evelyn Leopold
Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?
Nicky Reid
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan
Irma A. Velásquez Nimatuj
The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified
Kathy Kelly
Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade
Ariela Ruiz Caro
South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results
Ron Jacobs
Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971
J.P. Linstroth
Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy
Dean Baker
Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs
Michael Welton
Listening, Conflict and Citizenship
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall
John Feffer
America’s Multiple Infections
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber
Andrea Mazzarino
The Military is Sick
John Kendall Hawkins
How the Middle Half Lives
Graham Peebles
The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid
Robert P. Alvarez
The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election
Greg Macdougall
Ottawa Bluesfest at Zib: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility
CounterPunch News Service
Tensions Escalate as Logging Work Commences Near Active Treesits in a Redwood Rainforest
Louis Proyect
The Low Magic of Charles Bukowski
Gloria Oladipo
Rural America Deserves a Real COVID-19 Response
Binoy Kampmark
Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC
Marc Norton
Giants and Warriors Give Their Workers the Boot
David Yearsley
Celebration of Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail