The Right to Listen
Digitally Lit #248 – 5/30/2020
Hi all, welcome to issue #248 of Digitally Literate. Each week in this newsletter, I synthesize the news of the week in education, technology, & literacy.
I need to first start this issue by indicating that we’ve experienced another night of protests as outrage over George Floyd’s death spreads around the globe. We will discuss more of this in upcoming issues, but this week I will focus on the events unfolding in the battle between President Trump & social media.
In previous issues, I’ve asked whether there are limits to freedom of speech in online discourse. We’re experiencing a real-world challenge to this and I’ll document the situation in this week’s issue.
I also helped post the following:
- The Trauma of Social Distancing – Jason McCauley on the social emotional skills we need to enable in these times.
- Choosing Perspective – Addie Laney, a high school student in SC reflects on where to direct our focus.
- Reflecting on the Year – In this episode of the Technopanic Podcast, Kristen and I close out season two by reflecting on what we’ve learned in these tumultuous times.
Section 230 is the law that empowers online services to keep bad content off their platforms. It means online services can write and enforce rules that allow them to ban accounts, remove content, and create safer, better experiences online for everyone. This video should help make sense of the law.
The video at the top of this section unpacks some of the myths about Section 230 and how it empowers platforms to set and enforce community guidelines, and ban bad actors from their services.
President Trump’s tweets have long been false and inflammatory. Lately they’e been far worse. Earlier this week, Twitter needed to make a decision about how to address this latest content.
The problem is that Trump’s critics are looking to Dorsey to solve a problem that Twitter did not create. What the president says and does is inherently newsworthy. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer tweeted, “You can’t deplatform the president of the United States.”
At 8:17 AM Tuesday morning this thought experiment became very real as Trump sent a tweet suggesting that mail-in ballots were “fraudulent” and would lead to a “rigged election.” Within 24 hours, Twitter fact-checked the tweet and placed a label on the tweet indicating that viewers could “get the facts” on this issue.
As a response to this action by Twitter, Trump threatened…and then signed…an executive order threatening punishment against tech companies that censor online information by urging lawmakers to rethink Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) responded that this is an assault on free expression online and a transparent attempt to retaliate against Twitter. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, suggests the executive order attacks free speech.
Twitter flags Trump, White House for ‘glorifying violence’ after tweeting Minneapolis looting will lead to ‘shooting’
Shortly before 1 AM Friday, Trump tweeted about the protests in Minneapolis. The tweet promoted and glorified violent retaliation against the protesters by suggesting that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter promptly limited the public’s ability to view and share his tweet.
The ‘Looting’ comment from Trump dates back to racial unrest of the 1960s.
As this battle between Trump and Twitter rolled on, Facebook was noticeably silent as Mark Zuckerberg suggested that Twitter was wrong to fact-check Trump. Zuckerberg later elaborated on the decision not to act suggesting that they decided to leave the President’s posts in the case that the public needed to know if the government was planning to deploy force.
Monika Bickert, vice president of global policy management for Facebook, indicated that a private tech company should not be in the business of vetting what politicians say.
Zeynep Tufekci suggests that this is an attempt by Trump to keep Facebook in line up until the election.
These may be empty threats. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are private enterprises, with no First Amendment obligations to users, and courts have consistently ruled that these companies can set their own rules, just as restaurants can require guests to wear shirts and shoes.
When events are happening fast, misinformation travels fast, too. Here’s some tips on how to check your sources, and don’t trust accounts whose reason for existing is simply to spread “breaking news.”
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do now want to hear.
Digitally Literate is a weekly review of the news, notes, tips, and tricks from the week that resonated with me.