Uganda Regulator Orders Social Media Shutdown Ahead Of Vote

A billboard of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni who is running for his 6th presidential term is seen in Kampala, Uganda, on January 4, 2021. – Uganda gears up for presidential elections which is scheduled to take place on January 14, 2021, as President Yoweri Museveni seeks another term to continue his 35-year rule. (Photo by SUMY SADURNI / AFP)

 

Uganda’s communications regulator has ordered the shutdown of social media and messaging applications, ahead of a highly-charged election on Thursday.

The vote will come after one of the bloodiest campaigns in years, as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni seeks a sixth term against popstar-turned-MP Bobi Wine, who has managed to fire up a youthful population that has mostly known only one president.

Wine, who has spent most of the campaign in a bulletproof vest and combat helmet facing teargas, bullets and numerous arrests, on Tuesday urged his supporters to “protect” the election from rigging.

Despite the 38-year-old’s popularity, few observers believe he can pull off a victory against Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel leader who has ruled since 1986 and effectively crushed any opposition.

Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were down in the East African nation on Tuesday, after the communications regulator ordered a social media shutdown.

In a letter seen by AFP, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) executive director Irene Sewankambo ordered telecommunications companies to “immediately suspend any access and use” of social media and online messaging platforms.

READ ALSO: UN Seeks $35 Million In Emergency Aid For Madagascar

An industry insider who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said that the order was first communicated in “nasty and aggressive” phone calls to the telecommunications companies on Tuesday morning.

The calls made it clear the order was retaliation for Facebook deleting pro-government accounts for seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of the election.

Facebook said Monday that the accounts were linked to the ministry of information and technology.

UCC spokesman Ibrahim Bbosa told AFP: “I am not aware of a directive to switch off internet or social media platforms.”

“There has been slow connectivity on the platforms which can be partly due to heavy traffic as a result of the forthcoming elections” he said.

– ‘Guard the vote’ –

Some 18 million voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary ballot, which takes place after a chaotic campaign.

Journalists covering opposition rallies have been attacked, government critics locked up, and election monitors prosecuted, raising concerns over the transparency of the electoral process.

Two days of protests in November left 54 people dead.

European Union High Representative Josep Borrell said in a statement calling for a credible vote that “the excessive use of force by law enforcement and security agencies has seriously tarnished this electoral process.”

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, told journalists his home had been raided and his staff beaten by security forces on Tuesday morning.

He said the ruling party was trying to scare voters away from the ballot box and urged them to record any abuses or irregularities on polling day.

“We are telling you, you will not be breaking the law when you stay and protect your vote. We encourage you to use your phones, use your cameras. Your phone is a very powerful weapon, that camera is very powerful, use it.”

– Young and free –

Wine’s rise has rattled Museveni, who has outlasted all but two of Africa’s long-serving rulers, and watched as ageing strongmen elsewhere on the continent have been ousted in popular, youth-led uprisings.

Mueveni presides over a population with a median age less than 16, that is increasingly urban and educated.

Though he has campaigned under the slogan “securing your future”, the economic boom enjoyed during his early years has faded.

Only 75,000 new jobs are created each year for the 700,000 youth reaching working age, trapping most in poorly-paid farm labour, the World Bank says.

“We want change. There are no jobs, no money, we can’t go to study and when we go to the hospital, there is no medicine,” said 23-year-old Dorah Wasswa, hawking cheap wares on a pot-holed Kampala street.

– ‘We are too many’ –

A wily strategist, Museveni has outfoxed challengers to remain firmly in control, though analysts say his position is largely assured through patronage and force, rather than popular appeal.

He confronts in this election a divided opposition, with 10 candidates tackling him individually rather than presenting a united front.

Uganda is experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases and the United Nations and rights watchdogs say special election measures to contain the pandemic have been weaponised to browbeat Museveni’s opponents while leaving the ruling party untouched.

Wine says his supporters are “peaceful but assertive” and vows nonviolent protest should the election appear rigged.

“We come with only words. He (Museveni) comes to us with bullets, bombs, grenades and teargas. We are non-violent. We are just too many for him,” Wine told AFP in a recent interview.

 

Facebook Anti-trust Suits Seek To Separate Instagram, Whatsapp

 

US federal and state anti-trust enforcers filed suit against Facebook on Wednesday claiming the social media giant abused its dominant position with its acquisitions of messaging services Instagram and WhatsApp.

Separate suits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of state officials called for the divestment of Instagram and WhatsApp, services which have billions of users and are part of the Facebook “family” of applications.

“Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition,” said Ian Conner, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.

“Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive.”

A separate legal action was filed by state antitrust enforcers from 48 US states and territories.

“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who leads the coalition.

“Facebook used its power to suppress competition so it could take advantage of users and make billions by converting personal data into a cash cow.”

The suits allege Facebook sought to squelch competition by acquiring the messaging applications — Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

The action presages a fierce court battle seeking to force Facebook to divest the apps which have become an increasingly important element of the business model of the California giant and integrated into its technology.

Facebook said it would offer a detailed response after reviewing the cases but added: “Years after the FTC cleared our acquisitions, the government now wants a do-over with no regard for the impact that precedent would have on the broader business community or the people who choose our products every day.”

Data Advantages

The case is likely to hinge not only on Facebook’s share of social media users but the vast troves of data it collects from some three billion users worldwide.

“Facebook has been spending its time surveilling users’ personal information and profiting from it,” James said.

“No company should have this much unchecked power over our personal information, and our social interactions.”

Tiffany Li, a Boston University law professor who studies the sector, said that while Facebook has rivals bidding for internet users’ attention it has a big advantage because of its access to data.

“One company owning multiple platforms is not, in itself, necessarily a bar to competition,” Li said on Twitter.

“However, one company having exclusive ownership of vast amounts of user data, with no potential for interoperability or access to competitors, can be anti-competitive.”

Li added that new startups “have an uphill battle to reach users due to network effects, even if they have better products.”

The FTC announced earlier this year it would review acquisitions made by five Big Tech firms over the past decade, opening the door to a wave of potential antitrust investigations.

The consumer protection agency said it would review deals made by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet since 2010 amid growing complaints about tech platforms which have dominated key economic sectors.

The US Justice Department, which shares antitrust enforcement with the FTC, in October sued Google parent Alphabet, accusing the Silicon Valley giant of maintaining an “illegal monopoly” in online search and advertising and opening the door to a potential breakup. Eleven US states joined that case.

Scrutiny has been increasing for the large tech firms which have extended their dominance in recent years, including during the global pandemic as more people turn to internet platforms for goods and services.

‘There Must Be Gatekeepers’: Gov Akeredolu Defends Calls For Social Media Regulation

 

Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has defended calls for the regulation of social media and is advocating the use of gatekeepers to sieve content before they are published

“There must be gatekeepers. Yes, you want to publish any news you like, there must be gatekeepers using technology that will be able to at least, sieve what is right and what is wrong,” the governor said on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Wednesday while explaining part of the communique issued by the South-West Governors’ Forum after a meeting held last week.

READ ALSO: SERAP Threatens To Sue Northern Governors, NASS Over Social Media Bill

The Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum blamed fake news for the destruction of properties by hoodlums in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests. He explained that no government would allow fake news to take over the cyberspace.

A file photo of cars burnt by hoodlums during the violence in Lagos on October 21, 2020.

 

“When the hoodlums took over, a lot of fake news were fed to the public. People were reacting to it,” the former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, 64, added. “False news were fed to the public, they reacted to it. It led to the destruction of properties, Lagos, Akure, everywhere.”

READ ALSO: [‘The Timing Is Suspicious’:] NBA President Faults Moves To Regulate Social Media

According to him, “if we cannot be disciplined enough to be able to know that we don’t churn out news that can cause a lot of damage in the society, then the government itself must be proactive enough to find a way to control it.”

While explaining that the planned restrictions on social media would not affect personal conversations, the governor who recently secured a second term in office, said social media is already regulated in places like China and Russia.

READ ALSO: #EndSARS Protesters Used Social Media To Escalate Tensions, Monguno Claims

“They won’t restrict my personal conversations, they would not restrict what I am saying to my friends but if I want to take out news and say that thousands have been killed in Lekki Toll Gate for instance, then before it comes out, I must have evidence of people who died on the ground,” Akeredolu noted.

“Show me and if it is not there, I will say to you cannot use my band to propagate such news item. That is what we are saying.”

 

 

#EndSARS: Northern Governors Call For Control Of Social Media

 

Northern governors have joined calls for the control of social media, as part of efforts to combat fake news in the country.

Governors of the 19 states made the call on Monday when they met with traditional rulers from the region, the Inspector General of Police and the President of the Senate, to discuss the issues of insecurity and other socio-economic challenges.

Read Also: #EndSARS Protest: Northern Govs Condemn Calls For Regime Change

In a communique read by the Chairman of the forum who is the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, the northern governors lamented over what they described as the devastating effect of uncontrolled social media in spreading of fake news and in turn, fuelling crisis.

They also rejected and condemned the subversive actions of the #EndSARS protesters. Particularly the superlative agitations for a regime change which according to them is outside the legal democratic process.

More to follow.

#EndSARS Protesters Used Social Media To Escalate Tensions, Monguno Claims

FG Denies Alleged Plot To Shutdown Internet During Elections
A file photo of the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd).

 

The National Security Adviser (NSA), Retired Major General Babagana Monguno, believes the #EndSARS protesters used social media as a means to escalate tensions in the country, with the spread of subversive content.

He stated this on Wednesday at a workshop on the review of the Draft National Cybersecurity Strategy 2020 in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

Monguno, who was represented at the event by Mr Aliyu Mohammed, the Permanent Secretary (Special Services) at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, claimed that the protests were of noble intentions but ended up using social media platforms to disseminate seditious comments.

“We are witnesses to the use of social media to disseminate subversive content to incite violence and heightened tension, causing unrest and sparking widespread looting and destruction across the country,” he said. 

The NSA was, however, quick to note that cyberspace showed numerous potentials and the Federal Government intended to harness and progressively use the digital revolution to its maximum.

He added, “Our country is currently at a turning point in its history; a significant section of our population of over 200 million people are young and entrepreneurs.

“We are also witnessing a rapid rise in our adoption of the internet in our daily lives.”

Also present at the workshop was the ICT Director at the Ministry of Science and Technology,  Idowu Afe, who stated that the draft would be of immense advantage to the Nigerian digital sphere.

“The committee is hoping to complete work on the document over the next few days and pass the draft document to the President for his approval.

“The document is expected to contribute to the growth of the nation’s digital technology,” Afe told the audience at the event.

The Senate introduced the Anti-Social Media Bill in November 2019 to mitigate the use of social media in spreading false information.

But the bill faced opposition from human rights activists and Nigerians who condemned it, insisting that it was a means for the government to gag freedom of speech.

Twitter Investigating Global Platform Outage

In this file photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

Microblogging and social networking service, Twitter says it is working to resolve a global outage of the platform used by hundreds of millions worldwide.

The outage which started on Thursday evening marked a new setback for the network, which is fending off accusations of bias over the decision to block a news report critical of Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden.

“We know people are having trouble tweeting and using Twitter. We’re working to fix this issue as quickly as possible,” a company spokesperson told AFP at 2225 GMT.

Read Also: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Backs Nigeria’s #EndSARS Protest, Calls For Bitcoin Donations

Repeated attempts to post a tweet were greeted with the message: “Something went wrong, but don’t fret — let’s give it another shot.”

According to downdetector.com, users on every continent had reported being unable to use the platform, but the outages were concentrated on the east and west coasts of the United States, as well as Japan.

The outage appeared to have started around 21:30 GMT.

“We are continuing to monitor as our teams investigate. More updates to come,” Twitter’s application programming interface site said.

‘I Selfie, Therefore I Am’: Instagram 10 Years On

This picture taken on September 28, 2020 shows the logo of the social network Instagram on a smartphone and a tablet screen in Toulouse, southwestern France. – The Instagram group will, in early October 2020, celebrate its ten-year anniversary. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

 

#Foodporn, #nofilter, and #TBT: Little known to the general public a decade ago, Instagram has weaved its way into the daily lives of a billion people, changing the way we eat, travel, and consume.

On October 6, 2010, two Americans, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, launched Instagram as a social network dedicated to photo sharing. The novelty? The app offered filters to adjust brightness, contrast, and colour to create the perfect photo in an instant.

It had immediate success. The app was bought by Facebook two years after its launch, and by that time it had become the world’s most popular platform for uploading endless streams of selfies and had its own stars, Instagirls such as fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni with 21 million followers and Kylie Jenner of the Kardashian clan with 196 million followers.

Exhibitions, dinners, people on public transport, or on vacation, every corner had become a backdrop for capturing a self-portrait for public consumption.

“We have entered the era of ‘the internet reality’ where one can only exist through what one publishes on social networks. I selfie, therefore I am,” said Michael Stora, psychologist and president of the French research collective Observatory of Digital Worlds in Humanities (OMNSH).

Ten years on from its launch, Instagram has evolved far beyond selfies, as it redefines “experiences” and blurs the lines between reality and someone’s carefully curated personal brand.

Virtual storefronts

The success of Instagram and selfies didn’t escape the notice of brands. One of the top selfies of the 2014 Oscars including a beaming Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lawrence, and Brad Pitt was taken on a smartphone made by event sponsor Samsung.

The app has become the preferred platform for luxury brands, particularly fast-fashion labels which have developed powerful digital marketing strategies to attract millions of users on the platform.

A shopping function introduced last year has turned Instagram into an e-commerce site, allowing companies to use their profiles as virtual storefronts so users can shop and pay without ever leaving the app.

It has also launched countless careers of digital “influencers” who churn out daily content to their loyal followers, striking endorsement deals along the way.

“They send me the product and I provide all the service around it… Brands no longer need to call on an advertising agency. We take care of everything,” said Pauline Privez, a 36-year-old fashion and beauty influencer since 2009.

Instagram has also made luxury brands more accessible, as they are able to interact daily with users through their own accounts, said fashion historian Audrey Millet.

“By freely publishing content they open up to everyone, shedding the image of snobbery that has been attached to them,” Millet said.

Travel guides

The application has also revolutionised the dining experience.

Restaurateurs can count on carefully staged photos of their dishes, or moody shots within their cosy interiors to attract new clients. It is even possible to reserve a table at some restaurants directly through the app.

Instagram has become a place to search for inspiration in the kitchen, where anyone can access the recipes of famous chefs who have invested heavily in the platform, such as Jamie Oliver who is followed by 8.3 million people and posts new recipes daily.

Maelle Bourras, a Parisian in her 30s, follows “about 15 chefs” including Alain Passard, who has half a million subscribers, and Cyril Lignac, with 2.5 million.

“On weekends I try to reproduce some of their creations. It’s free and accessible, and allows me to vary from the usual dishes,” Bourras said.

Others use Instagram to choose their next vacation, and tourist offices rely heavily on content creators to promote their destinations.

Digital influencers like Privez publish their “experiences” and in return are paid, in addition to the free trips.

Privez, who has 140,000 subscribers, makes between six and seven “sponsored trips” per year, “not counting the two-day press trips”, she said.

Around the world, museums and pop-up “experiences” are increasingly offering interactive installations solely for visitors to take selfies and post them on Instagram and other social media platforms.

 Pressure for perfection

Not all social media celebrities are in it for the money. Sylvain Hawawini, known as Dr Shawa Vet to his 107,000 followers, poses with animals in hundreds of photos from locations around the world, so that others can “discover landscapes or places still little known”.

The insatiable quest for Instagram “likes” has made the platform addictive for some, and can have devastating effects, particularly for younger people, said psychologist Stora.

Instagram gives teenagers a false sense of reality and pressure for perfection “that they cannot live up to”, he said.

Influencers can feel the pressure as well.

“I am forced to stay with it for my professional life, but in my personal life, I am becoming more and more detached from it,” Privez said.

Turkey Begins Life Under Strict Social Media Rules

 

Turkey on Thursday entered a new era of tight social media restrictions which threaten to erase the local presence of Facebook and Twitter should they fail to take down contentious posts.

The legislation was rammed through parliament by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP party and follows the government’s crackdown on opposition newspapers and television channels.

Facebook’s human rights officer Iain Levine tweeted that the move “raises many concerns (about) human rights”.

But while fearful, free speech advocates are not certain whether Erdogan’s government will be able to implement the law’s most punitive measures — or if social media companies will ever fully comply.

“We believe that these days it’s really impossible in a country like Turkey to suppress social media — it is so much a part of people’s lives,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch.

Under the new rules, platforms with more than one million daily users must open offices in Turkey that can deal with local court decisions to remove offending content within a day.

If not, they face advertising bans, multi-million-dollar fines and — crucially — bandwidth reductions of up to 90 percent, making the platforms effectively unusable.

They also require social media companies to “take necessary measures” to store user data locally, although binding legislation to that effect was taken out of the final version of the law passed in July.

– ‘Twitter schmitter!’ –

Erdogan has made no secret of his disdain for social media, although his @RTErdogan Twitter account has 16.7 million followers.

“Twitter schmitter!” he declared in 2014, vowing to “wipe all of these” platforms out.

He followed through on his threat later that year by briefly unplugging Twitter and YouTube ahead of local elections, which came in the heat of a corruption scandal linked to online audiotapes.

“The objective of the law is to threaten social media companies with a comply-or-die message,” Sinclair-Webb told AFP.

Access to websites and content has already been partially restricted in the nation of 83 million people.

Privacy rights advocate Sevket Uyanik said Turkey had blocked access to 408,000 websites, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 Facebook posts by the end of 2019.

“When this is already the case, imagine what it will be like after October 1,” Uyanik told AFP.

Digital rights expert Yaman Akdeniz said platforms have until the end of the day Thursday to open Turkish offices or start facing penalties and fines.

Akdeniz said bandwidth throttling would begin in April and reach 90 percent by May of next year if the social media companies still fail to comply.

Facebook and Twitter refused to comment when asked by AFP if they would follow the new rules.

– ‘Not popular’-

Many Turks, especially the young, turn to social media for news updates since most of the traditional media are owned or controlled by pro-government firms.

“There are a lot of cases of domestic violence against women and murders that we don’t see on TV,” Ayse Nur Akyuz, a model and self-described “influencer” with 47,000 Instagram followers, told AFP.

“News about them spreads on social media in five minutes.”

Everyone from high school students, cartoonists and reporters to a former Miss Turkey model have landed in court for tweets and other social media posts deemed offensive to the president.

The new legislation gained momentum after Erdogan became enraged by online insults of Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and his wife Esra, the president’s daughter, following the birth of their fourth child.

Yet Sinclair-Webb noted that government supporters have also grown to depend on social media — especially in the era of coronavirus restrictions and public gathering bans.

“Closing it down will not be a popular move,” said Sinclair-Webb. “If it attempts to implement this new law, the government would also shoot itself in the foot.”

-AFP

UK Rapper Wiley Says ‘I’m Not Racist’ After Twitter Ban

In this file photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

 

 

British rapper Wiley apologised Wednesday for “generalising” in a series of anti-Semitic posts that got him permanently banned by Twitter.

“I’m not racist, you know. I’m a businessman,” Wiley told Sky News after the social media platform made its initial suspension of the artist permanent.

“I want to apologise for generalising, and I want to apologise for comments that were looked at as anti-Semitic.”

The 41-year-old east Londoner — born Richard Cowie but known to his fans as the “Godfather of Grime” — is one of the most popular and successful artists in the British rap scene.

He had around half a million followers before Twitter suspended him for seven days last Friday for a series of posts that compared the Jewish community to the Ku Klux Klan.

Other posts said Jews controlled business interests and should get out of Israel because it “is not your country”.

Wiley also shared the posts on the Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram.

Facebook deactivated his Instagram account on Tuesday and Twitter permanently banned him on Wednesday.

But Twitter’s decision only followed a 48-hour boycott launched by several UK celebrities and members of parliament for leaving some of his posts visible for hours.

Twitter said it had used the temporary suspension period to review the case.

“Upon further investigation, our teams have permanently suspended the account in question for repeated violations of our hateful conduct policy,” Twitter said in a statement.

“Let us be clear: hateful conduct has absolutely no place on our service and we strongly condemn anti-Semitism.

“We are sorry we did not move faster and are continuing to assess the situation internally.”

British police have also said they are investigating his statements on social media accounts.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism said it welcomed the news that Twitter had “finally listened”.

But it said the decision was “too little, too late”.

“It is at least a start for this deeply irresponsible social network,” the group added.

 

 

 

-AFP

Twitter Flags President Trump’s Tweet For ‘Glorifying Violence’, White House Responds

In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with President Trump's Twitter page shown in the background on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia.  Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with President Trump’s Twitter page shown in the background on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

Social media platform, Twitter, on Friday flagged US President Donald Trump’s tweet about the protests and violence in Minneapolis, Minnesota for “glorifying violence,” leading to a response from the American White House.

Trump had tweeted about the protests which followed the death of a black man, George Floyd who was filmed saying he could not breathe as a white police officer used his knee to pin him down.

“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump had tweeted. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

According to Twitter, the company flagged the tweet in what it tagged a “public interest notice.”

The implication is that the tweet will not be taken out of the social media platform but hidden under a notice reading: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.”

Twitter, has, however, said, “As is standard with this notice, engagements with the Tweet will be limited. People will be able to Retweet with Comment, but will not be able to Like, Reply or Retweet it.”

In response, the official White House account called Twitter’s bluff by retweeting the same post. This time, Twitter responded by saying that while it violated its rules, the company “determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

The White House later defended Trump’s tweet, saying, “The President did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it.”

And Trump’s social media director and Twitter feed manager, Dan Scavino, had his own response.

“Twitter is full of shit — more and more people are beginning to get it,” he wrote on Twitter.

The latest spat came a day after Trump signed an executive order in the Oval Office seeking to transform the way social media companies are regulated. That followed Trump’s fury over Twitter tagging two of his tweets with fact checks, which was also an unprecedented measure.

Executive Order

On Thursday, Trump had issued an executive order seeking to strip social media giants like Twitter of legal immunity for content posted by users.

If this was enacted, the likes of Twitter and Facebook would become open to lawsuits and greatly increased government regulation.

Trump — angered this week 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.”

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.”

Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting Social Media Giants

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 19: U.S. President Donald Trump signs a signed the executive order on DOT deregulation, during a meeting with his cabinet in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day President Trump met with members of the Senate GOP. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

 

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Thursday seeking to strip social media giants like Twitter of legal immunity for content posted by users.

If this was enacted, the likes of Twitter and Facebook would become open to lawsuits and greatly increased government regulation.

Trump — angered this week 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.”

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.

Trump To Sign Executive Order After Threatening To Shutter Social Media

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 19: U.S. President Donald Trump signs a signed the executive order on DOT deregulation, during a meeting with his cabinet in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day President Trump met with members of the Senate GOP. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

 

US President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order Thursday after threatening to shutter social media platforms following Twitter’s move to label two of his tweets misleading.

After long resisting calls to censure Trump over his truth-defying posts, Twitter on Tuesday accused the president for the first time of making false claims.

Trump had tweeted — without any evidence — that more mail-in voting would lead to what he called a “Rigged Election” this November.

Twitter’s slap on the wrist was enough to drive Trump into a tirade — on Twitter — in which he claimed that the political right in the United States was being censored.

Trump would sign an executive order “pertaining to social media” on Thursday, his aides said, without offering any details.

But an undated draft version of the order obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday said “we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online.”

The order would make it easier for federal regulators to argue that the companies are “suppressing free speech when they move to suspend users or delete posts,” The New York Times reported, citing two senior administration officials.

Both newspapers also reported that the order, which they said had not yet been finalized, could see tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google held legally responsible for content posted on their platforms.

Twitter’s move to tag the president’s tweets comes after years of being accused of ignoring the president’s violation of platform rules with his daily, often hourly barrages of personal insults and inaccurate information sent to more than 80 million followers.

READ ALSO: Trump Threatens To ‘Close Down’ Social Media After His Tweets Were Tagged 

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg waded into the row, telling Fox News that his social network — still the biggest in the world — has a different policy.

“I just believe strongly that Facebook should not be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said in a snippet of the interview posted online Wednesday by Fox.

“I think, in general, private companies, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey fired back on Wednesday night, saying that his platform’s effort to point out misinformation did not make it an “arbiter of truth.”

“Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,” he tweeted.

He doubled down on the new policy, writing: “Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me… We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.”

– ‘Blatant lies’ –

Kate Ruane, at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Trump has no power to regulate Twitter.

The constitution “clearly prohibits the president from taking any action to stop Twitter from pointing out his blatant lies about voting by mail,” she said.

For all his protests, Trump is a political giant on social media.

By contrast, his Democratic election opponent, Joe Biden, has only 5.5 million Twitter followers.

Social media suits Trump’s unorthodox communications style and his penchant for conspiracy theories, rumors and playground-style insults.

The claim that Twitter is biased against conservatives fits the White House narrative that the billionaire president is still an outsider politician running against the elite.

The row is also a useful smokescreen when Biden is homing in on widespread dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 100,000 Americans dead.

Polls consistently show Biden in a strong position, despite barely having left his home during weeks of social distancing measures — and his relatively meager social media presence.

AFP