The current US president currently enjoys an exception granted to political leaders. This will no longer be the case the day he leaves the White House.
Managing the irascible Donald Trump is part of these dead-end battles for social networks, on the hazy border between the fight against disinformation and respect for freedom of expression. And the problem will not go away the day he is no longer President of the United States.
When he leaves the White House, the Republican billionaire will once again become an average litigant in the eyes of the United States, and a user like any other of Twitter, his favorite communication channel.
He currently benefits from the exception granted to political leaders by the Twitter network: “Our approach to world leaders, candidates and public officials is based on the principle that people should be able to choose to see what their leaders say, with clear context, ”said a spokesperson for the San Francisco-based group.
This exception only applies to “incumbent leaders and candidates, not citizens once they no longer occupy these positions,” added Twitter, also recalling that politicians were not above network laws in the case of advocating terrorism or pedophilia, among others.
In short: where a user’s false or threatening tweets could be deleted, those of the president – many – are simply hidden.
But when he becomes’ Citizen Trump ‘again,’ if he continues to call for violence and break the rules, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and everyone else will have to take the issue seriously and not hesitate to ban it in when needed, ”comments Hany Farid, social media specialist at UC Berkeley.
Twitter may, if it deems it necessary, permanently suspend an account and prohibit the creation of new profiles in the event of serious and repeated violations. Donald Trump already complains regularly that networks, especially Twitter, “censor” his political camp and do not respect freedom of expression.
But such a bias has never been proven in practice, on the contrary, as shown by the ability of right-wing groups to mobilize crowds on platforms.
Above all, “people confuse the right to say things with the right to amplify them by speaking to more people. Social networks are amplification, and it is not a fundamental right, ”analyzes the professor. “When you create an account, you accept the rules of these private companies,” he continues. “I don’t see any Republican complaining about the ban on pornography on Facebook.”
The president has made Twitter his platform of choice. For a long time, it allowed him to speak directly to his supporters and his detractors, without a filter… Until the platforms had to crack down, under pressure from civil society.
But the lies and outbursts on subjects as serious as health, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, or on the anti-racism protests this summer, have broke the camel’s back.
Donald Trump can no longer really go freewheeling on the networks, which behave more and more like the media, by making editorial decisions.
Several American channels interrupted the broadcast of a speech by the president on Thursday evening, believing that he was making disinformation.
The way of reason
With large strokes of capital letters, the American president has been storming since Tuesday evening that he has won key states where the counting is still in progress, that the Democrats are organizing electoral fraud to “steal” the election from him.
“All the votes that arrive after the election will not be counted!” he exclaimed again Thursday, wrongly, to the attention of his 88 million subscribers.
Twitter masked this post and a dozen others, including videos, with the same mention: “Some or all of the content shared in this tweet is disputed and likely to be misleading about how to participate in an election “.
The tweets may not be as easily shared as usual, but they remain readable with a click, much to the chagrin of some NGOs who are calling for their removal in the name of the fight against disinformation.
Casey Fiesler, professor of information science at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says it is a “reasonable strategy” between the public interest in knowing that the head of state claims to have won and the imperative not to mislead them.
But the warnings from Twitter, and similar ones from Facebook, did not prevent the candidate’s vituperations from translating into protests by Republican activists, even outside polling stations, from Arizona to Pennsylvania, to call for “Stop counting” or count only “the legal votes”, to use Donald Trump’s phrase.
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