Facebook removes Trump's post and Twitter flags it for violating rules

Donald Trump tweets his support for repealing a law protecting tech companies after Facebook removed his post falsely claiming flu is more lethal than COVID and Twitter flags it for violating rules

  • The statement was posted just hours after Trump was released from hospital
  • Referencing flu, Trump said: ‘We have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!’
  • The statement was removed by Facebook and flagged by Twitter 
  • Trump reacted to the removal, tweeting: ‘REPEAL SECTION 230!!!’  
  • Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act – itself part of a broader telecom law – provides a legal ‘safe harbor’ for internet companies

Facebook on Tuesday removed a post by Donald Trump and Twitter flagged it for violating rules after the president falsely claimed flu is more lethal than COVID-19. 

The statement, posted just hours after Trump was released from hospital, read: ‘Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. 

‘Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!’

Trump reacted to the removal, tweeting: ‘REPEAL SECTION 230!!!’ 

Under the U.S. law, internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act – itself part of a broader telecom law – provides a legal ‘safe harbor’ for internet companies. 

The coronavirus has killed 210,195 Americans; more than 7.4 million have been infected. The death from the flu has ranged from 12,000 and 61,000 annually since 2010, according to the CDC. 

The president tested positive for coronavirus last week and was hospitalized Friday. He staged a dramatic return to the White House Monday night after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was receiving care.  

The president tested positive for coronavirus last week and was hospitalized Friday. He staged a dramatic return to the White House Monday night after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was receiving care

Facebook on Tuesday removed this post by Donald Trump and Twitter flagged it for violating rules after the president falsely claimed flu is more lethal than COVID-19

Tuesday’s post was flagged by Twitter, with the statement: ‘This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. ‘However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible’

A spokesman for Facebook told CNN the post was removed for breaking its rules on COVID-19 misinformation. 

Tuesday’s post was flagged by Twitter, with the statement: ‘This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. 

‘However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.’

In August Facebook deleted a post by President Trump which featured a link to a Fox News video in which Trump says children are ‘virtually immune’ to the virus.

Facebook said that the ‘video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation.’ 

Twitter has generally been quicker than Facebook in recent months to label posts from the president that violate its policies against misinformation and abuse.

Trump gives two thumbs up from the Truman Balcony upon his return to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he underwent treatment for Covid-19, in Washington, DC, on October 5

CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously refused to take action against Trump posts suggesting that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud, saying that people deserved to hear unfiltered statements from political leaders. Twitter, by contrast, slapped a ‘get the facts’ label on them.

Until June, Trump’s posts with identical wording to those labeled on Twitter remained untouched on Facebook, sparking criticism from Trump’s opponents as well as current and former Facebook employees.

Announcing the changes Zuckerberg wrote: ‘The policies we’re implementing today are designed to address the reality of the challenges our country is facing and how they’re showing up across our community.’ 

Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley, said earlier Monday that the president remains contagious and would not be fully ‘out of the woods’ for another week but that Trump had met or exceeded standards for discharge from the hospital. 

SECTION 230: THE LAW AT CENTER OF BIG TECH SENATE SHOWDOWN

Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today.

Under the U.S. law, internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act – itself part of a broader telecom law – provides a legal ‘safe harbor’ for internet companies.

But Republicans increasingly argue that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have abused that protection and should lose their immunity – or at least have to earn it by satisfying requirements set by the government.

Section 230 probably can’t be easily dismantled. But if it was, the internet as we know it might cease to exist.

Just what is Section 230?

If a news site falsely calls you a swindler, you can sue the publisher for libel. But if someone posts that on Facebook, you can’t sue the company – just the person who posted it.

That’s thanks to Section 230, which states that ‘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.’

That legal phrase shields companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted – whether their complaint is legitimate or not.

Section 230 also allows social platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in ‘good faith.’

Where did Section 230 come from?

The measure’s history dates back to the 1950s, when bookstore owners were being held liable for selling books containing ‘obscenity,’ which is not protected by the First Amendment. One case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which held that it created a ‘chilling effect’ to hold someone liable for someone else´s content.

That meant plaintiffs had to prove that bookstore owners knew they were selling obscene books, said Jeff Kosseff, the author of ‘The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,’ a book about Section 230.

Fast-forward a few decades to when the commercial internet was taking off with services like CompuServe and Prodigy. Both offered online forums, but CompuServe chose not to moderate its, while Prodigy, seeking a family-friendly image, did.

CompuServe was sued over that, and the case was dismissed. Prodigy, however, got in trouble. The judge in their case ruled that ‘they exercised editorial control – so you’re more like a newspaper than a newsstand,’ Kosseff said.

That didn’t sit well with politicians, who worried that outcome would discourage newly forming internet companies from moderating at all. And Section 230 was born.

‘Today it protects both from liability for user posts as well as liability for any clams for moderating content,’ Kosseff said.

What happens if Section 230 is limited or goes away?

‘I don´t think any of the social media companies would exist in their current forms without Section 230,’ Kosseff said. ‘They have based their business models on being large platforms for user content.’

There are two possible outcomes. Platforms might get more cautious, as Craigslist did following the 2018 passage of a sex-trafficking law that carved out an exception to Section 230 for material that ‘promotes or facilitates prostitution.’ Craigslist quickly removed its ‘personals’ section altogether, which wasn’t intended to facilitate sex work. But the company didn´t want to take any chances.

This outcome could actually hurt none other than the president himself, who routinely attacks private figures, entertains conspiracy theories and accuses others of crimes.

‘If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump´s lies, defamation, and threats,’ said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Another possibility: Facebook, Twitter and other platforms could abandon moderation altogether and let the lower common denominator prevail.

Such unmonitored services could easily end up dominated by trolls, like 8chan, which is infamous for graphic and extremist content, said Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. Undoing Section 230 would be an ‘an existential threat to the internet,’ he said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS 

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