On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was considering taking legal action against Twitter for slapping a fact-checking banner on his misleading tweets about mail-in voting. Trump tweeted out a claim that mail-in voting has a higher rate of fraud, and that the California agencies responsible for mailing out ballots was doing so illegally.
Both of these claims were factually incorrect. In short, Trump lied, rather blatantly, and Twitter took steps to make users aware of this. This incensed the president, however, leading to a screed against the social media platform. “Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect,” Trump ironically wrote on that exact platform Wednesday morning.
Court Decision Underscores Long-Shot in Trump’s Claims
However, as a private business, Twitter is free to host, or remove, any content they see fit. A surprisingly timely court decision on Wednesday underscored this, when the DC Circuit Court resoundingly refused to hear a case by Freedom Watch and Laura Loomer. The right-leaning Freedom Watch and internet provocateur Loomer filed suit against Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
Loomer was banned from those platforms in 2018 for her prejudiced statements regarding Muslim people. The court’s ruling in dismissing the suit is brief, and roundly criticizes Loomer and Freedom Watch’s numerous legal claims. Notably, the court reminds the plaintiffs that the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech of individuals from government censorship.
However, the government is not in charge of Facebook, or Twitter. As such, as private companies, they are able to censor literally any content they feel needs censoring. Ironically, a similar defense is often invoked by conservatives when bakeries refuse to make cakes for gay couples. However, when the shoe is on the other foot, Loomer and Trump have changed tune.
It’s unclear what action, if any, Trump is seriously planning to take against Twitter. One plan involves the creation of a panel to investigate “anti-Conservative bias” by social media platforms. Another could involve the Department of Justice opening anti-trust investigations into companies like Twitter and Facebook.
However, it seems unlikely that any such plans would gain much traction. Politicians using their office to sanction private businesses for disagreeing with them could set a very dangerous precedent. Republican lawmakers are likely aware of the poor optics of such a situation, as a Democratic president could use similar reasoning to target organizations like the NRA or super PACs