Trump Targets Social Networks

The President has been Twitter on their own platform. Now, he's following through.

President Trump has made outrageous attacks against journalists during his time in office. Now, he’s threatening to use the power of the state to go after his critics.

Tony Romm and Josh Dawsey for WaPo (“Trump expected to sign executive order that could threaten punishment against Facebook, Google and Twitter over allegations of political bias“):

President Trump is preparing to sign an executive order Thursday that could roll back the immunity that tech giants have for the content on their sites, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Trump’s directive chiefly seeks to embolden federal regulators to rethink a portion of law known as Section 230, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a document that could still evolve and has not been officially signed by the president. That law spares tech companies from being held liable for the comments, videos and other content posted by users on their platforms.

The law is controversial. It allows tech companies the freedom to police their platforms for abuse without fear of lawsuits. But critics say those exceptions have also allowed some of Silicon Valley’s most profitable companies to skirt responsibility for the harmful content that flourishes on their online platforms, including hate speech, terrorist propaganda and election-related falsehoods.

The order would prompt federal officials to open a proceeding to reconsider the scope of the law, the people familiar with the document said. A change could mean potentially dramatic free-speech implications and wide-ranging consequences for a broad swath of companies reliant on doing business on the Internet.

The order would also seek to channel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission, which would be encouraged to probe whether tech companies’ content-moderation policies are in keeping with their pledges of neutrality. It would also require federal agencies to review their spending on social media advertising, according to the people familiar with the White House’s thinking.

“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online,” according to an undated draft version of the executive order obtained by The Washington Post late Wednesday.

With a normal President in office, this would be controversial but defensible from a public policy standpoint. There are real questions about the way Twitter, Facebook, and Google use their overwhelming market positions to dominate the political conversation. And, as the article notes, the matters would ostensibly be adjudicated by the FCC and the FTC, which are independent regulatory agencies not headed by individuals Trump can fire at will.

But, of course, Trump is not an ordinary President. He’s already made the Justice Department much less than the independent, neutral institution it has long been. And the order comes in the context of repeated rants by Trump against these companies.

NPR‘s Shannon Bond (“Trump Threatens To Shut Down Social Media After Twitter Adds Warning To His Tweets“):

Tensions between President Trump and Twitter escalated Wednesday as he threatened to “strongly regulate” or shut down social media platforms, which he accused of silencing conservative viewpoints.

Trump’s threats come one day after Twitter, for the first time, added a fact-check warning to a pair of his tweets. In them, Trump claimed without evidence that mail-in ballots are fraudulent.

“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that…. happen again.”

Now, obviously, the First Amendment would seem to protect Twitter and others in deciding how to apply their terms of service and how to label content on their platforms.

It’s unclear what Trump could do to crack down on social media platforms, but the power of Silicon Valley tech giants has been the subject of investigations by federal and state agencies, as well as congressional hearings.

University of Miami Law Professor Mary Anne Franks said the president has little legal recourse against Twitter’s decision to fact-check his posts because the company has the right to set and enforce its own rules.

“Can a public official try to regulate or to shut down a private entity on the basis of not liking what they did?” she said. “No, that would be exactly what the First Amendment protects us against. That’s the great irony of this.”

But the First Amendment isn’t self-enforcing. Fighting heavy-handed regulation would require long and costly court battles. The prospect of that would naturally create a chilling effect, making media companies incredibly leery of crossing Trump. Presumably, that’s exactly the end game here.

Beyond Trump himself, social media companies are simply in a no-win situation here. Even normal politicians are often controversial, spinning things in a way that outrage opponents.

Twitter has, in the past, given world leaders a lot of leeway, even when they post false information, because, it says, their tweets are newsworthy. In June 2019, the company created a warning label to flag and suppress political tweets that break its rules on acceptable speech. And earlier this month, the company announced it would label “potentially harmful” tweets about the coronavirus.

The president posted the same unsubstantiated claims about voting by mail on Facebook, but that social network, unlike Twitter, has not placed a warning label on the posts.

This is not the first time the companies have taken different approaches to a thorny issue. In October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his social media platform will stop running political ads, citing online ads’ “significant risks to politics.” Facebook, in contrast, has said it will not block political speech, even if it is misleading.

And, of course, this is a two-way street. While any platform the President of the United States decided to use would get the word out, the behemoths are in a unique position given their huge user bases.

“Twitter is finally realizing that they are in a very powerful position because Trump needs them in order to circulate his messages,” said Joan Donovan, an expert on disinformation and research director at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center.

“It’s interesting to see Twitter realize this, in this moment, knowing that we’ve got a few months before the election,” she said. “This is certainly not going to be the last time that they’re called to use this notification.”

Trump, who uses Twitter as his primary form of communicating with the public, has long accused Facebook and Twitter of censoring conservative views.

Some of the president’s supporters lashed out on Wednesday at a Twitter executive who has been a public face of the company’s policies on misinformation. They pointed to tweets from several years ago, in which the executive criticized Trump and compared members of the administration to Nazis.

Twitter said in a statement: “No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions.”

In congressional testimony in 2018, Dorsey said, “Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions. … We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially.”

Conservatives have pressed for investigations of alleged anti-conservative bias in Silicon Valley. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit claiming Twitter, Facebook, Google and Apple had conspired to suppress conservative views. The court said the companies are not governments, and therefore cannot violate free-speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

Which is so obvious that it shouldn’t have required an expensive lawsuit to settle. Still, it’s arguable that these companies are so big that they should be regulated as public utilities like broadcast networks rather than like newspapers or tech companies. But it’s a slippery slope, indeed, when a man like Trump is running the Executive branch.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, First Amendment, Law and the Courts, Media, Social Media, U.S. Constitution
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

    How long do you think Trumpers would have to stare at that sentence before they figured out what was wrong with it? 😀

    50
  2. drj says:

    No way to implement this before the election, I’d guess.

    But it is a sign of what will happen if Trump wins a second term.

    After all, this is how the playbook goes: a gradual erosion of norms, appointment of loyalists, and subversion of institutions. And in the end, there’ll be an authoritarian faux democracy.

    13
  3. KM says:

    You know what? If I were a CEO for any of these platforms, I’d call his damn bluff.

    Trump *NEEDS* social media to survive and has been thriving off the fact that they’re too afraid of political blow-back to suspend him for violations like they should have ages ago. Well, blow-back’s here – now what? Letting him run riot has gotten them the same results as holding him accounting would have; Trump always bites the hand that feeds him. They’ve got nothing to lose if this is the shape of the future, Twitter in particular. He’s going to destroy them one way or the other, even if he’s gone in Nov because he ain’t gonna stop tweeting till they pry it out of his cold dead hands.

    Nobody wants to be the one to set the precedent of denying POTUS a platform or “censoring” them in any way. At this point however, it’s practically their duty to hit him with a temp ban and slap a big ole’ graphic with” Banned for violating TOS and threatening the First Amendment” as the top pinned tweet. So suspend his account, Twitter. Follow your own guidelines and stand up for yourself. What’s he gonna do – shut you down like he says he’s planning to do anyways?

    30
  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What a world we live in, where asserting simple facts is equal to “silencing conservative voices” and no one on the right even blinks an eye.

    Alternative facts have won the day.

    25
  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Go for it, Donald. Shut down the social platforms your supporters use. It will boost mainstream media again. And what are you going to do when you can’t tweet 90 times a day? Are you going to take up smoking? Golf twice as much? Take up knitting?

    18
  6. JohnMcC says:

    Down in the musty cellar of that WaPo story there are a couple of little throw-away items about this project.

    “In July, the President convened a ‘social media summit’ in the White House featuring GOP lawmakers and Republican strategists…as a precursor for further action…” So this is not something that blows across the media landscape never to be seen again. It’s a plan.

    And “that same month DOJ opened a wide-ranging review of the tech industry which has since blossomed into a full inquiry on section 230….” “No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts,” Barr…said in February…. “They have become titans.”

    4
  7. Jon says:

    @KM:

    You know what? If I were a CEO for any of these platforms, I’d call his damn bluff.

    Agreed. If Peter Thiel can self-fund the destruction of Gawker via the courts, Jack Dorsey can self-fund the court costs for this.

    11
  8. Scott says:

    My instinct is to mute the President and see how he rages. What if other media outlets decide to shut him off of his oxygen. I would laugh out loud. Of course, I don’t have money involved and that is what counts to all these companies.

    Besides, Trump is digging a hole for himself. Just look at the Tweet storm this morning. Some morning, he going to wake up and realize that people just aren’t paying that much attention to the crazy guy in the corner. If only other media outlets would like cable news would just be more discerning and ignore his tweeting. It really is a sick codependent relationship, Trump and the media.

    6
  9. @Teve: The irony and twisted logic on display here is pretty amazing. Not only has Trump used Twitter to great success, he needs it more than it needs him.

    Beyond that, I would wager a lot of Trump’s base gets a huge chunk of their “news” from FB.

    And to top all of that off: the main way Russian intelligence influenced 2016 (and will try to do son in 2020) is via social media.

    14
  10. Teve says:

    FWIW everybody, Jack Dorsey was on thin ice with the Twitter board just a few months ago, and several investors were calling for his resignation for a number of reasons, such as the fact that Twitter is not making a lot of bank, Dorsey is CEO of an entirely different company also, and his bizarre plan to move to Africa. Will this buttress him, as the tech world rallies behind him? Maybe not. Sleazy Mark Zuckerburp is publicly criticizing Twitter for doing anything about Trump’s lies.

    7
  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    A better way of dealing with the anti-trust issues would be to require the companies to implement federation so that multiple networks can interoperate with each other (the same way anyone can set up an e-mail server and communicate with any other e-mail server). It’s content neutral and the protocols to do it already exist.

    6
  12. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That’s exactly the answer. You should be able to have your profile hosted at the company you like best, and have it be interoperable with all your friends wherever they are hosted. I don’t have to have an AOL account to send an email to a friend on AOL, I don’t have to buy a Chevy to be able to drive on the roads, and the global social media network should be competitive and open too.

    2
  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Teve:

    It also allows each server to set up their own filtering and banning policies instead of having to depend on one guy to decide for the whole network (again using the e-mail analogy, imagine if we were all dependent on Jack Dorsey to decide what counts as spam)

    7
  14. Barry says:

    “The irony and twisted logic on display here is pretty amazing. Not only has Trump used Twitter to great success, he needs it more than it needs him.”

    Trump is anti-loyalty – help him and he wants to f*ck you even more.

    7
  15. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The biggest thing here, for me, is that today’s Republicans (wholly different from Conservatives) equate fact-checking with censorship.
    I have no doubt that Trump will use the FTC and FCC to go after his political enemies, just as he is with the DOJ.
    It’s a scary time when the full force of the US Government is being used to keep the American people from the truth.
    A side issue is that it took the Trump administration 3 months to act against a pandemic…but 24 hours to act against truth.

    15
  16. Teve says:

    OK, the winner of Twitter today is the comedian who said:

    “Social media sites shouldn’t fact check claims”, says convicted child molester Mark Zuckerberg.

    19
  17. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: exactly. But if that happened and Zuckerburp no longer had a monopoly on the global social media platform, Facebook’s $650 billion valuation would crash, so I expect they will fight to the death and with billions. Do we have a government that can withstand billions of dollars in legal bribes? Of course we don’t, so I don’t expect the problem will be fixed.

  18. Joe says:

    Per the lede in your OP:

    Now, he’s following through.

    That is my ray of sunshine. Anything that requires follow through with this White House is that much less likely to happen.

    1
  19. Mister Bluster says:

    @Scott:..Some morning, he going to wake up and realize that people just aren’t paying that much attention to the crazy guy in the corner.

    Supreme Leader and Witch Doctor President Puke will never be that self aware.

    3
  20. Modulo Myself says:

    This has little to do with social media, and much to do with trying to cheat in November. It’s about setting the stage for Trump’s apologists and the ‘good’ Republicans to dismiss everything they hear about voter suppression. It’s about giving ‘good’ Republicans a chance to say sure he lies and cheats but there has to be a way to say this without making it sound as if support that if I vote for him.

    5
  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    The timeline on this will looks something like this.

    -Tiny issues executive order
    -Courts stay they order and schedule a hearing for September.
    -November 3
    -Future of order indeterminate.

    3
  22. Stormy Dragon says:

    Oh and to Dr. Taylor, requiring implementation of federation by large social media companies is another example if the sort of government involvement in speech I would be in favor of.

    2
  23. Gustopher says:

    Trump’s directive chiefly seeks to embolden federal regulators to rethink a portion of law known as Section 230, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a document that could still evolve and has not been officially signed by the president. That law spares tech companies from being held liable for the comments, videos and other content posted by users on their platforms.

    If Twitter were held liable for the content of the President’s tweets, I think it would change things. I say, “go for it.”

  24. Pete S says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Recognizing that truth is a much greater threat to Trump and the Republican Party than a pandemic and depression shows more self-awareness than I though they had.

    6
  25. @Stormy Dragon:

    Oh and to Dr. Taylor, requiring implementation of federation by large social media companies is another example if the sort of government involvement in speech I would be in favor of.

    Noted, although I am going to admit that I don’t think I fully understand how this would work in any efficacious way (but I will admit that perhaps I just don’t fully understand what is being proposed).

    At first blush, however, this does not sound like regulation of free speech, but regulation of a specific medium of information distribution.

    For one thing, the government isn’t going to be the one filtering under the scheme, correct?

    (And private entities, like this blog, can already filter at will).

    2
  26. @Stormy Dragon:

    (the same way anyone can set up an e-mail server and communicate with any other e-mail server)

    What am I missing as to how something like this would solve the underlying problems of misinformation online?

    Perhaps I am missing something?

    3
  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: I assume that refers to Section 230 of the 25 year old Coomunicstions Decency Act. If Trump refuses to sign the updated bill then it won’t become law and the old bill, which protects companies like Twitter and Facebook from being sued over what their users post, would still be in effect.

    Trump, of course, is and always has been a moron, so I would assume he has no clue what the effects of his action or inactions are.

    2
  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s times like this I really miss Doug Mataconis. We could use a lawyer.

    11
  29. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: Oh. It’s even dumber than I thought. It’s not the reworked bill that has been undergoing years long negotiations, intead he’s going to sign some kind of executive order, as if his magic signature has the power to repeal laws. But his followers are as dumb as him and will no doubt think this has some effect.

    1
  30. Mikey says:

    “We had to destroy the First Amendment in order to save it.” –Today’s GOP

    3
  31. James Knauer says:

    The primary difference between twitter and other social media platforms, that even as a non-user of twitter, I am subjected to literally thousands of their garbage tweets every single day. Once you quit facebook, you don’t see facebook unless Lord Zuckerburg makes some proclamation about how rich and powerful he is.

    Jack Dorsey lives in a land of layered delusions, and it has nothing to do with the orange man-baby, who remains a symptom of a much larger U.S. disease, one rooted in an abject refusal to leave the high school of one’s mind.

    Twitter could close this afternoon and no one would miss it.

    3
  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Knauer:

    the high school of one’s mind

    Nice phrase. I wouldn’t be surprised if I used it some day. Without attribution, naturally.

    6
  33. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I can’t speak for Teve or Stormy Dragon, but it makes sense to me in one particular way. One of the reasons Gab is unlikely to get any real traction is because most of the users are harassers, trolls, and bigots (if I may, deplorables.)

    Many of them stay on Twitter, because they know migration will mean they are just talking to each other–no more trolling and no chance of spreading their ideology.

    However, if the big social media companies made a coordinated effort to clamp down on falsehoods, the only alternative would be a place like Gab. It may result in a natural quarantine of delusional people like Trump and those who use the 1A to shield their repressive actions.

    3
  34. @Kurtz: Perhaps I am missing the point, but just having everyone self-segregate doesn’t solve the problem of the dissemination of bad information.

    2
  35. CSK says:

    I recall having an exasperated (on my part) back-and-forth with James Pearce about Twitter. He was maintaining that since he himself paid no attention to Twitter that it wasn’t worth anyone’s attention, so it was therefore inconsequential. My point was that even though he might pay no attention to Twitter, millions of other people did, including foreign governments who regarded Trump’s ravings as a goldmine of info about his psychic state.

    Pearce still kept insisting that because Twitter was of no consequence or interest to him, it was of no consequence or interest to anyone else, either. It was the clearest example of solipsism I’ve ever seen. I finally quit. It was like talking to the wall.

    5
  36. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    What am I missing as to how something like this would solve the underlying problems of misinformation online?

    Federation would help fight misinformation in several ways:
    1. Users don’t have to wait for Jack and Mark to decide that something is bad to start blocking it. Individual admins can block specific users or troublesome servers from their local users without outside permission.
    2. Twitter’s “my way or highway” status reduces how responsive to their user base they have to be, because they only other option is to opt out entirely. If you could move to, say, Mastadon and still see Twitter user’s tweet from there, Twitter now has to worry if being known as doing nothing about misinformation costs them users.
    3. Multiple systems means multiple opportunities for innovation. Right now innovation on Twitter is limited to what Jack wants us to have (which in turn is based on what he thinks will make money rather than what the users want most).
    4. Under federation, seeing what server a message is coming from actually provides useful information. I can be suspicious of @joeshmo@infowars.com in way I can’t of @joeshmo

    5
  37. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Let me put it this way: suppose that the only way to keep “He Who Must Not Be Named” from commenting on this blog was to convince Jack Dorsey to ban him every time he reappeared. Do you think that would improve the comment section? Or is the fact Steve and James and Doug can ban him themselves a good idea?

    2
  38. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Not only has Trump used Twitter to great success, he needs it more than it needs him.

    This can not be stressed enough. Trump has used his “direct line to the voters” via Twitter in unprecedented ways to control the information his supporters consider valid. I would argue that the Trumpian “alternative facts” perversion is the single most important factor sustaining the partisan polarization we are seeing today.

    That is, our current political dysfunction is “nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” as Asimov once said. Trump has made massive advantage of this through his use of social media. Take that away from him and Trumpism loses a lot of its sway.

    8
  39. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    At first blush, however, this does not sound like regulation of free speech, but regulation of a specific medium of information distribution.

    It’s forced association, which violated the first amendment under current precedent.

    1
  40. James Knauer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Naturally!

    2
  41. @CSK: I think several of us had discussion with Pearce about Twitter to the same outcome.

    2
  42. @Stormy Dragon:

    It’s forced association, which violated the first amendment under current precedent.

    FWIW, while both freedom of speech and free association are First Amendment rights (there are actually five of them, the other three are worship, press, and petition of government), association rights aren’t speech rights. So it really doesn’t fit into that previous conversation.

    Even so, I am not sure that what is proposed constitutes a freedom of association issue in any event.

    I am still perplexed by the proposal, however. While knowing the joschmo@infowars is problematic by default, that doesn’t block what he says (unless he is moderated) and it doesn’t mean that people are going to not see a lot of what he says (it isn’t that hard to figure out people’s POV on twitter as it is).

    And somehow my inlaws get a ton of nutty memes and stories without being on social media at all.

    1
  43. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I never understood that. Was he just being perverse? Or was he really incapable of grasping that because he regarded something as insignificant not everyone else did?

    2
  44. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    The admin of an e-mail server can block e-mails from @infowars.com. The admin of a web-proxy can block http requests to http://www.infowars.com

    There’s no way for anyone but Jack Dorsey to block the InfoWars twitter account. You either block all of twitter or none of twitter.

    1
  45. mattbernius says:

    There is always an effing tweet…

    Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2014

    9
  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m not sure that stopping “the dissemination of bad information” is even possible. It impinges on the whole whose-ox-is-being-gored problem for starters. (Who died and declared you–or me for that matter–as the arbiter of what information is “bad?”) Moreover moving the information that you or I consider bad does not mean that it disappears; it moves to underground/samizdat formats instead. To the extent that society can fight bad information, it has to come from members of such societies recognizing what information is bad and choosing to ignore it. I don’t see a lot of hope for our society choosing to become informed and subsequently deciding not to embrace information that agrees with their biases simply because it’s not true. 🙁

    3
  47. Tim says:
  48. dazedandconfused says:

    I don’t think the answer to this is to be found in law books. This is a street thang.

    If Twitter didn’t know that fact-checking Trump was an act of war they are sadly naive. In effect they invited Trump to leave. Trump responded, predictably, by threatening to leave Twitter open to a pile of lawsuits and legal bills.
    It’s now Twitter’s move. Their answer will be known by the appearance of more fact checking tags or lack thereof.

    1
  49. Jax says:

    My most gratifying daydream is that Trump loses the election, and the very next day every reporter, politician, and every single human on planet Earth with a shred of decency blocks him on Twitter. The best thing you can do with a toddler throwing a tantrum is ignore them.

    Well….maybe after he’s handed over the nuclear football. That could get ugly.

  50. Teve says:

    @James Knauer:

    The primary difference between twitter and other social media platforms, that even as a non-user of twitter, I am subjected to literally thousands of their garbage tweets every single day

    That’s because FB is largely about people in your small circle, while Twitter is about the News.

  51. de stijl says:

    Imagine that Obama had done this as Trump did today.

    It would be bedlam.

    Libertarians and little c conservatives have to be shocked and appalled at this EO. Like heads on pikes storming the castle appalled.

    All those originalists in the Federalist Society must be galvanized and ready to man the barricades over this blatant over-reach by the state.

    4
  52. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    All those originalists in the Federalist Society must be galvanized and ready to man the barricades over this blatant over-reach by the state.

    You have such a wry sense of humor. 😛 😀

    ETA: On the other hand, coating them with zinc does have it’s arguments. Maybe dipping them would be best.

    4
  53. de stijl says:

    @James Knauer:

    I had an account for a bit. Posted pics of Pangolins cuz they’re bad ass.

    Changed device and lost the password.

    Never really thought about it again.

    One can function perfectly well without Twitter or analogues.

    1
  54. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Galvanize is a strange verb.

    Coat with zinc or shock into action.

    That is a new line on my etymology list. (Yes, I have a list of words to investigate the etymology of. Don’t judge.)

  55. de stijl says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Dorsey has better lawyers.

  56. DrDaveT says:

    @de stijl:

    That is a new line on my etymology list.

    galvanize (v.)
    1801, “stimulate by galvanic electricity,” from French galvaniser, from galvanisme (see galvanism). Figurative sense of “excite, stimulate (as if by electricity)” first recorded 1853 (galvanic was in figurative use in 1807). Meaning “to coat with metal by means of galvanic electricity” (especially to plate iron with tin, but now typically to plate it with zinc) is from 1839.

    He’ll swear that in her dancing she cuts all others out,
    Though like a Gal that’s galvanized, she throws her legs about.
    [Thomas Hood, “Love has not Eyes,” 1845]

    galvanism (n.)
    “electricity produced by chemical action,” 1797, from French galvanisme or Italian galvanismo, from Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), professor of anatomy at Bologna, who discovered it c. 1792 while running currents through the legs of dead frogs.

    Etymonline.com is your friend.

    3
  57. Hal_10000 says:

    With a normal President in office, this would be controversial but defensible from a public policy standpoint.

    No. It wouldn’t be defensible with a normal President. It would still be an attempt to control social media with ham-handed govt agencies. It would give it the authority to decide what constitutes “neutral” viewpoints. It is a power that would be abused almost instantly. And even if it weren’t, the biggest lesson of the Trump Presidency is that we can’t give the federal government powers that are safe in the hands of “normal” Presidents.

    10
  58. de stijl says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Concur on etymonline.

    In 11th grade Biology we did unspeakable things to live frogs. Mr. Walsh was a hard case.

    We did the frog leg electricity thing.

    A lot of folks were not comfortable pithing (add to list) the live frogs. I sorta became class executioner.

    No Country For Old Men. I was the Anton Chigurh of 1980 South HS Bio. No coin flip.

    One assignment was to demonstrate a beating frog heart to Mr. Walsh. Pretty sure kids don’t do that anymore even in AP Bio. That’s pretty hard core.

    The one thing I hated about that class was pricking my fingertips for blood samples repeatedly. Once or twice is fine. Five days a week for a month pushes it. You have to distribute.

    There was a spring loaded mechanism. I cannot recall the name of it. You placed it on your fingertip and engaged it and it would poke your fingertip so you could get a blood sample. Obviously pre HIV.

    It was a miniature guillotine but for finger tips.

  59. Pete S says:

    @Hal_10000:

    1000% correct. The correct question should never be “would we like this boring responsible president to have power x?”. From now on it should be ” would we like Donald Trump to have power x?”. There will at some point be another Trump and the next one may have enough self control and work ethic to not make their transgressions so obvious.

    4
  60. drj says:

    @Pete S:

    Uhm, no.

    the biggest lesson of the Trump Presidency is that we can’t give the federal government powers that are safe in the hands of “normal” Presidents.

    This means that we can’t give the federal government any power at all.

    Paradise awaits, I am sure.

    3
  61. @Just nutha ignint cracker: I agree with you. That is really why I was asking the questions above–I don’t see how the proposed solutions solve anything (and for the matter, I don’t think what Twitter is trying to do is helpful).

  62. @CSK:

    I never understood that. Was he just being perverse? Or was he really incapable of grasping that because he regarded something as insignificant not everyone else did?

    I really don’t know. The problem with him, and why he was eventually disinvited from the party, is that whether he did it on purpose or not, he was just reflexively contrarian to the point that our assessment was that he was just being intellectually dishonest and that it was impossible to have worthwhile dialog with him. Any thread he was in was degenerate into nonsense (anything to do with Twitter is a great example of that).

    1
  63. @Stormy Dragon:

    There’s no way for anyone but Jack Dorsey to block the InfoWars twitter account. You either block all of twitter or none of twitter.

    I can block whomever I like on Twitter and can even mute certain words. I can also curate what I see based on whom I follow. And, ultimately, that is how any of this is going to work: we all end up being our own filters.

    But, moreover, even with a system that can block Infowars.com, the malicious person with the Infowars domain can just move to another domain and start spreading his or her bile.

    You can’t guarantee that all the bad people will reside solely on the bad servers. (Not to mention the quetion of who decideds what “bad” is and how they decide it).

    1
  64. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: I can attest that HS bio students still dissect frogs. I supervised 4 classes doing it as a sub a couple of years ago–I had worked with the students several times that year, so the teacher was relieved when I accepted the job and she didn’t have to postpone the lab. They weren’t required to get the heart beating, though. And when I dissected a frog back in 1968, only a few of our frogs still had beating hearts when we opened them up.

    I’m not sure that students don’t learn as much from dissecting a virtual frog, btw.

    1
  65. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Do they still do the fetal piglet pickled in formaldehyde?

    That was a trip.

    I get that IRL experience works better than simple illustrations of organs and systems, but still, dissecting a pig is pretty hard core.

    Smelled like pickled butt.

    1
  66. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Iirc, the beating heart frog disection required that you had pithed the frog correctly.

    If you cut off the CNS at the source, no heartbeat.

    You had to pith carefully. Cut there.

    I was good at pithing. Which is probably not a good or productive life skill. Still, I can walk any fool through how to separate a frog’s brain from its organs.

    It is intriguing they still do frog dissection in Bio.

    Mr. Walsh was a hard case, but inattentive. We got up to many monkeyshines with acetone and fire. Teenagers are essentially sociopaths.

    Am I bad person because I lit my poor frog on fire? Possibly, but it was really cool.

  67. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You, as a user, can block stuff from your Twitter account.

    You, as an admin, cannot block subsets of Twitter for all of the users on your system.

    You’re basically saying that, say, a e-mail server based spam filter isn’t necessary because each individual user could just set up scripts to delete the spam e-mails themselves.

  68. @Stormy Dragon: No, I am saying I honestly do not understand what problem this proposal would solve on a platform like Twitter.

    I simply can’t envision a situation wherein the bad actors would be sufficiently seff-sorted for what you are describing to have any efficacy.

    This sounds like people who wanted all porn to be on .xxx domains so it would be easy to identify and filter. But that doesn’t work because nothing stops someone from putting adult material on a non .xxx domain.

    What am I missing?

  69. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    What am I missing?

    You’re so tied up in insisting it won’t work that you’re not actually bothering to read what I’m writing anymore.

    I simply can’t envision a situation wherein the bad actors would be sufficiently seff-sorted

    That’s precisely the problem I was pointing out. There’s a mix of good and bad actors on Twitter. But an another system’s admin can’t block specific twitter accounts while letting others through. They either have to allow access to all of Twitter or None of it.

    One of the things federation would provide is a way to make access to other services, like Twitter, more granular

  70. @Stormy Dragon:

    You’re so tied up in insisting it won’t work that you’re not actually bothering to read what I’m writing anymore.

    I am reading what you are writing and trying to understand it.

    I am honestly not even sure what precise problem this will allegedly solve.

  71. Jax says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Ok, I’m just gonna go straight out here, I don’t get it, either. You are so tied up in insisting James and Steven are BOTH wrong, all of the time, regardless of their posts….what is your proposition? If you have a good way to parse crap out of Twitter, we’d all love to hear it.

    1
  72. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am honestly not even sure what precise problem this will allegedly solve.

    I’ve said FOUR times now what precise problem it will solve. Let me say it a FIFTH time: it will solve the precise problem that external admins cannot block harmful twitter accounts from their systems because right now Twitter is either an all or nothing proposition.

    If a business doesn’t employees engaging in far-right activities from company systems, they can black list websites or e-mail addresses. They can’t blacklist twitter accounts, they either have to block the entirety of Twitter or let it all through. Federation would all them to run everything through a local “social media server” and filter out known bad actors.

    Did you get that? If you’re tempted to say “I’m not sure what problem this will solve” go back and read it a sixth time.

  73. @Stormy Dragon:

    If a business doesn’t employees engaging in far-right activities from company systems, they can black list websites or e-mail addresses. They can’t blacklist twitter accounts, they either have to block the entirety of Twitter or let it all through. Federation would all them to run everything through a local “social media server” and filter out known bad actors.

    At the risk of further making you mad, you are not describing a problem being solved, you are describing a possible mechanism for policing social media. Are you trying to stop racism? Holocaust deniers? The alt-right? MAGA types?

    Are you looking to stop falsity? Bad logic? A specific ideology?

    You can get frustrated me for asking, but you really have not defined the problem you are trying to solve.

    And I remain fixated on the fact that there is nothing to guarantee that all (or even a critical mass of) the bad actors will be on the web site or e-mail addresses in such a way as to block whatever it is that you are trying to block.

    So, sure, you can block all the @hate domains folks, but what stops some of the @nice people from spewing the same nonsense? How much does @nice have to be infiltrated before it is blocked? What’s an acceptable level v. the needed critical mass for blacklisting?

    How is my .xxx example from above not pertinent? (or, again, what am I missing?).

    And worse, there is the scale problem.

    I understand from personal experience that having someone on the other end of this process not understanding what you are trying to say, but despite your claim that I keep telling you it won’t work, I think if you look back I have repeatedly asked for clarification on the assumption that I am simply not understanding what you are saying.

    And I offered up the .xxx example for you to either tell me, yes, that is the kind of thing you are talking about or, no, I am misunderstanding you.

    And, honestly and truly, you have never defined the specific problem you are trying to fix. What speech or behavior are you trying to deal with? (That strikes me as a fair question).

  74. @Stormy Dragon: Put another way: federation might enhance the ability to block certain groups of users, but that is a tool for managing whatever is appearing on social media. That, to me, is not the problem to be solved, but rather a potential means of solving something wrong with social media.

    So, let me try and rephrase: what about social media do you want to use federation to improve?

  75. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And I remain fixated on the fact that there is nothing to guarantee that all (or even a critical mass of) the bad actors will be on the web site or e-mail addresses in such a way as to block whatever it is that you are trying to block.

    First of all, this is a ridiculous criteria. It’s like saying seatbelts are useless because there’s no guarantee seatbelts will prevent all auto fatalities. Allowing more people to engage in filtering will improve the situation.

    So, sure, you can block all the @hate domains folks, but what stops some of the @nice people from spewing the same nonsense? How much does @nice have to be infiltrated before it is blocked? What’s an acceptable level v. the needed critical mass for blacklisting

    Second, @nice is much easier to police since they just have to handle a small group of users, rather than the entire network. Case in point: the largest Mastadon servers average about one moderator for 500 – 5,000 users vs Facebook, which has one moderator per 260,000 users. Mastadon servers don’t have to handle 2 billion users.

    Third, the reason I know federation helps is because we have examples of it working: e-mail filtering is a thing. Web proxy filtering is a thing. Filtering of federated social media is a thing (again Mastadon is a good example). They’re not perfect, but they’re better than putting all control in one person who’s incentives often run counter to the needs of the users because he makes money off of spreading misinformation.

  76. @Stormy Dragon:

    I know federation helps is because we have examples of it working: e-mail filtering is a thing. Web proxy filtering is a thing. Filtering of federated social media is a thing (again Mastadon is a good example). They’re not perfect, but they’re better than putting all control in one person who’s incentives often run counter to the needs of the users because he makes money off of spreading misinformation.

    I have never doubted that, by definition, the more segments you can divide the overall group the easier it is to police them as you note. But that logical fact does not address the issue of scale (how many subdivisions of Twitter would it take to make this a manageable proposition?) and it definitely does not address the question of what, precisely, you think you going to fix by using this mechanism.

    You are also ignoring that a) the whole purpose of social media, especially something like Twitter, is inclusivity and connectivity, and b) a lot of the information that you are concerned about is currently disseminated through e-mail and websites (and, heck, television and radio).

    So, yes, I acknowledge and understand that federation is superior to a single owner being the moderator. All well and good, but what social problem does it solve and how?

    I am trying to think of an appropriate analogy, and maybe I have Space X on the brain, but I am closer to the moon when I am at the top of the Empire State Building than I am on the ground, but I am still a heckuva a long way from actually getting to the moon.

    And, again, you are focusing on the tool (making it easier to moderate) without having yet said one thing about what you want to moderate.

  77. @Stormy Dragon:

    First of all, this is a ridiculous criteria. It’s like saying seatbelts are useless because there’s no guarantee seatbelts will prevent all auto fatalities.

    BTW, seatbelts are guaranteed, scientifically, to provide a substantial and immediate safety benefit. That is not a good analogy to what you are suggesting because even if you segment Twitter into piece, there is no appreciable guarantee that anything improves.

    And, again, (and I am sorry if this irritates you, but it is rather important): you haven’t defined the specific positive effect you are trying to generate (more moderation is not the end, it is a means).

    @nice is much easier to police since they just have to handle a small group of users, rather than the entire network. Case in point: the largest Mastadon servers average about one moderator for 500 – 5,000 users vs Facebook, which has one moderator per 260,000 users. Mastadon servers don’t have to handle 2 billion users.

    The main reason that Mastadon has less users to moderate is that it is a niche product with less users overall. And, to my ongoing point, I see nothing in the Mastadon model that stops the growth and dissemination of bad information. The notion that the social network is not owned by one person or corporation in appealing, I will admit, but I am not sure with what I have understood this conversation to be about, which is someone helping shape speech and association with the hopes of dealing with the destructive information that grows on the internet.

    So, I understand how it works in principle. I understand the tools that it theoretically creates. I am not sure what broader problem it solves, especially as it pertains to speech and information.

  78. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The main reason that Mastadon has less users to moderate is that it is a niche product with less users overall.

    That’s the whole point. Breaking up the monolithic network into a bunch of niche systems that interoperate makes the whole thing easier to police. And to the extent Mastadon has less users overall, that’s a result of Metcalfe’s law, which gets back to my original point that the monopoly players need to be forced to federate.

    I see nothing in the Mastadon model that stops the growth and dissemination of bad information.

    How the biggest decentralized social network is dealing with its Nazi problem

    So, I understand how it works in principle. I understand the tools that it theoretically creates. I am not sure what broader problem it solves, especially as it pertains to speech and information.

    Now I admit I only have 23 years experience as a professional software engineer and that as a political software professor you’re also an expert on IT tech, so I guess your right. It’s a completely unsolvable problems (despite plenty of RL examples of success doing that) and we have no choice but just let nazis and racists run rampant all over everything.

  79. @Stormy Dragon:

    Now I admit I only have 23 years experience as a professional software engineer and that as a political software professor you’re also an expert on IT tech, so I guess your right. It’s a completely unsolvable problems (despite plenty of RL examples of success doing that) and we have no choice but just let nazis and racists run rampant all over everything.

    First, where have I made an argument about software engineering? Answer: nowhere. I have either accepted what you have said or asked questions (often assuming that I did not understand).

    Second, you still haven’t defined the precise political or information dissemination problem you want to solve, save some vague references.

    So, yes, I defer to your software expertise. But you have not in any way, addressed the substantive politics of your solution.

    It’s a completely unsolvable problems

    You have never once actually defined what the precise problem is. Surely as an engineer, you understand the need to define the problem you want to solve before you can engineer the needed solution.

    despite plenty of RL examples of success doing that

    Has the ability to block email domains or blacklist website stopped the spread of Nazi propaganda? Because, I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that it has.

    So, I think you are arguing from a flawed conclusion.

  80. I return to the issue of porn. It seems to me that it is impossible to fully keep pornography in contained spaces on the internet.

  81. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I gather Stormy wants to make social media work like email, such that we can exclude all messages from, day, @RealDonaldTrunp but otherwise allow everything else from Twitter that isn’t on the spam list. That, right now, an ISP or workplace or whatever has to either ban Twitter altogether or allow all tweets.

    Obviously, one can simply not follow Trump. Or to mute any tweets mentioning him. But it’s a crude instrument.

  82. @Stormy Dragon:

    we have no choice but just let nazis and racists run rampant all over everything.

    Serious question: do we have that problem now? And if you say yes, how are you defining it?

  83. @James Joyner: I think I understand his basic argument. My point is that if the ill he wants to fix is certain kinds of ideas or ideologies getting public attention, I don’t see how his model achieves that goal.

    But, again, I am not sure exactly what he is hoping to excise from the public conversation. I get that federation leads to easier moderation than we have Twitter, but I simply do not see how that leads to stopping ideas in some broad fashion.

  84. How does federation stop white nationalism of the Steve Bannon/Donald Trump variety from spreading, for example?

  85. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I return to the issue of porn. It seems to me that it is impossible to fully keep pornography in contained spaces on the internet.

    Except porn largely is in contained spaces on the internet. Most people aren’t randomly getting sent porn in e-mail from strangers or accidentally going to porn sites without expecting it. Most businesses and schools have filters installed the vast majority of porn.

    Ironically, one of the few places that it is still a problem is on Twitter. Again because no one can do anything about except except Twitter as a company.

    Is it perfect? No, but handles the largest problems.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    How does federation stop white nationalism of the Steve Bannon/Donald Trump variety from spreading, for example?

    It allows the formation of smaller communities that can set their own criteria for participation at a higher bar and then exclude people from that community for failing to obey community standards. Steve Bannon will still exist off in their own system, yes, but hardcore racists talking to each other denies them an ability to spread as easily: it makes recruiting harder and their invisibility outside their own circle limits their influence over the larger culture:

    The Alt-Right Playbook: Mainstreaming