Donald Trump’s threat to regulate Twitter likely to hit roadblocks: legal experts

Threat to shut down Twitter for flagging fake content. Claiming that he can "nullify" governors who dare to keep churches closed to congregants. Affirming "absolute authority" to force states to reopen, even when local leaders say it is too early.

While he fights the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump claims extraordinarily wide-ranging powers that lawyers say the president simply does not have. And he repeatedly refused to define the legal basis for these powers.


"It is not that the president does not have a remarkable amount of power to respond to a public health crisis. It is that these are not the powers he has," said Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas Law School who specializes in constitutionality. and national security law.

Trump is now in a tear against Twitter after the social media platform, which he uses to speak directly to his more than 80 million followers, sent fact verification alerts in two of his tweets claiming that the vote by mail is fraudulent.

The president cannot unilaterally regulate or close companies, and any effort would likely require Congressional action. His government filed an executive order that authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to regulate technology companies, citing concerns that this would not pass the legal process.


Tech giants "silence conservative voices," Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday. "We will either regulate strongly, or terminate them, before we can allow this to happen."

Conservatives may want to see Twitter legally responsible

White House Director of Strategic Communications, Alyssa Farah, said Trump will sign an executive order related to social media companies on Thursday.


The call to expand regulation appears to run counter to the long-standing conservative principles of deregulation, but Trump and his allies accuse liberal-minded tech giants in Silicon Valley of attacking conservatives on social media by checking or removing them the facts. your posts.

Critics of the president, like Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, criticized the platforms for allowing him to present false or misleading information that could confuse voters.

Some Trump allies questioned whether platforms like Twitter and Facebook should continue to enjoy liability protections as "platforms" under federal law or be treated more like editors, who may face content lawsuits.

The protections have been credited with allowing the Internet to grow unrestricted for more than two decades, but now some Trump allies are advocating that social media companies face more scrutiny.


"Big technology gets a lot of help from the federal government," Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri told Fox News Channel. "They get this special immunity, this special immunity from lawsuits and responsibilities that are worth billions of dollars to them every year. Why are they being subsidized by federal taxpayers to censor conservatives, censor people critical of China?"


On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, "We will continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections around the world."

Dorsey also said, "It doesn't make us an 'arbiter of the truth'. Our intention is to connect the points of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so that people can judge for themselves." .

Previous executive orders face legal challenges

Twitter's decision to mark Trump's tweets about the postal vote came when the president provoked another social media storm, continuing to fuel a debunked conspiracy theory, accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of killing a former office worker Congress. Prominent Republicans, including Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Utah Senator Mitt Romney, asked Trump to withdraw from the attack, which was not marked with a fact check by the social media company.

Even if he doesn't follow through on the threats, Trump's statements can still have consequences when he uses his pulpit.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is sitting before testifying before a Senate committee on September 5, 2018. Dorsey said the company's action was not an “arbitrator of the truth”. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

"He's still trying to exercise his outrageous interpretations of the law as a baton to beat other people," said Joshua Geltzer, founding executive director of the Institute of Defense and Constitutional Defense at Georgetown University's Center for Law.

Many of Trump's previous executive orders, including border security and immigration, are still working in the courts after being challenged.

While Congress may pass legislation that further regulates social media platforms, Trump "lacks that authority," said former federal judge Michael McConnell, who now heads the Stanford Law School's Center for Constitutional Law.

"He's just venting," said McConnell.

Democrats control the Chamber of Deputies, and this divisive legislation is unlikely to be faced in the heat of an electoral cycle in which the presidency, all seats in the Chamber and about a third of the Senate seats are up for grabs.

"There is absolutely no First Amendment issue, with Twitter adding a label to the president's tweets," said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Columbia University's First Amendment Knight Institute, who won the case that prevents Trump from banning his critics of your Twitter feed. . "The only First Amendment issue here arises from the president's threat to punish Twitter in any way for checking his statements."

But Jack Balkin, a law professor at Yale University and an expert on the First Amendment, said that's not Trump's point.

"This is an attempt by the president to, as we used to say in basketball, & # 39; work the referees & # 39;", he said. "He is threatening and persuading the idea that these people in his corporate boardrooms think twice about what they are doing, so as not to touch him."

Many Democrats in Congress would probably agree. They pointed to Trump's frequent Twitter explosions over Memorial Day weekend at rivals perceived as a way to distract a heavily criticized federal government response to the coronavirus, which has killed more than 100,000 American lives.

Matthew Dallek said that just because Trump has no authority to do most of the things he is threatened to do, it does not mean that he will not, for example, try to sign executive orders in any way – even if they are later overthrown by the courts.

"What limited Trump previously? Not much. So I think he will do what seems to be of interest to him at any time," said Dallek, a historian at the George Washington University School of Political Management, specializing in the use. presidential power.

Trump, Dallek said, may also try to abuse his powers to leverage other government instruments, from the Justice Department to the IRS, to press for investigations or to launch regulatory crackdowns to punish states, cities or businesses. Trump also showed that he is willing to exercise powers that modern presidents have largely avoided, including his recent purge of inspectors general.

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