Today U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey questioning why Twitter should continue to receive special immunity from the federal government after choosing to editorialize on President Trump’s tweets. Twitter currently receives special immunity under the law in what’s known as Section 230, which states that companies that merely distribute user content should not be treated like a publisher, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. But, with Twitter’s decision to editorialize on President Trump’s tweets, the company appears to be acting like shifting to a publisher, and Senator Hawley is asking why Twitter should continue to receive special protection for distributors if it is going to act like a publisher.
Senator Hawley also questions whether President Trump was targeted for political purposes or if Twitter will similarly fact check President Trump’s political opponents like Joe Biden and Chinese Communist Party propaganda.
"Twitter’s unprecedented decision to single out the President for disfavor, based on his political speech, is alarming," Senator Hawley writes.
"Yesterday, for the first time ever, Twitter branded the President’s tweets with a 'fact check' designed to encourage readers to believe that the President’s political speech was inaccurate. Twitter’s decision to editorialize regarding the content of political speech raises questions about why Twitter should continue receiving special status and special immunity from publisher liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act."
Read the full letter here or below.
May 27, 2020
1355 Market Street, Suite 900
San Francisco, CA 94103
Dear Mr. Dorsey:
Twitter’s unprecedented decision to single out the President for disfavor, based on his political speech, is alarming. Yesterday, for the first time ever, Twitter branded the President’s tweets with a “fact check” designed to encourage readers to believe that the President’s political speech was inaccurate. Twitter’s decision to editorialize regarding the content of political speech raises questions about why Twitter should continue receiving special status and special immunity from publisher liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Twitter’s “fact check” raises serious questions about whether Twitter targeted the President for political reasons. Employees working for the team responsible for Twitter’s fact-checking policies have a stark history of derogatory comments against both the President and people who voted for him. For example, Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity encouraged people to “fly over” states like Missouri because Missourians supposedly “voted for a racist tangerine.” That employee also called people who work for the President “actual Nazis.”
Meanwhile, where has Twitter been in response to the outright lies and propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party and its so-called “wolf warriors,” busy blaming American soldiers for the start of COVID-19 on social media? Will Twitter also “fact check” these outrageous statements? What about other candidates for political office, like former Vice-President Joe Biden? Will Twitter editorialize regularly in response to his comments on social media? Or will Twitter only go after people its employees dislike?
Instead of allowing viewers to look at the dialogue around the President’s tweets and assess for themselves the merits of the President’s views, Twitter decided to editorialize, appending its own comments and assessment to the President’s speech. But editorializing is what publishers do, like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Your company is treated very differently from publishers, as you know. Traditional publishers are liable when they mess up. But under Section 230, Twitter receives a special government carve-out that shields it from liability. That statute tells courts to treat Twitter like a passive distributor of third-party content. Twitter’s decision to affix its own editorial content to users’ posts brings into question the basis for that immunity.
It makes little sense to treat companies that publish their editorial comments about others’ content as if they are mere distributors. Companies that act like publishers should be treated like publishers. Section 230 should not treat Twitter and neutral internet service providers in the same way when they function so differently.
Please send a prompt response by June 15 identifying the sources on which Twitter relied to decide to editorialize regarding the President’s political speech, and please explain why you think that companies that act like publishers should not be treated like publishers.