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Just the facts

In the 1950’s television series Dragnet lead character Sgt Joe Friday’s signature saying was “Just the facts, ma'am. “ 

Twitter Inc. on Tuesday for the first time applied a fact-checking notice to a tweet from President Trump. On Thursday The White House drafted an order that seeks to reshape the way federal regulators view, Twitter and other social-media companies—not as hosts of speech but as gatekeepers that control millions of Americans’ daily experiences on their platforms. 


“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,” the draft order says. “When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.” 


Clay Calvert, First Amendment expert and professor of law at the University of Florida, told Newsweek: "President Trump has no legal authority or standing to close down a social media platform such as Twitter or Facebook on his own." 


In the 1990s, in the internet’s early days Congress enacted Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. That law gives online companies broad immunity from liability for their users’ actions, as well as wide latitude to police content on their sites. 

On May 11th Twitter announced a new approach by the company to begin labeling tweets with disputed or misleading information. The blog post states, “In serving the public conversation, our goal is to make it easy to find credible information on Twitter and to limit the spread of potentially harmful and misleading content”. This change was focused on containing disputed or misleading information related to COVID-19. Social media has changed the way we speak and interact with each other, it has also changed how our politicians and business leaders interact with us and each other. 

 

The facts here are complicated and go beyond civility and public discourse. In 3 days, we’ve gone from just the facts to a conversation about free speech. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been vocal in defense of Twitter's fact-check of the tweet. "We'll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make," he tweeted Wednesday. 


"This does not make us an 'arbiter of truth,'" Dorsey continued in another tweet. "Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions." 


In a Fox News interview, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he'd have to understand these proposed regulations, "but in general, I think a government choosing to censor a platform because they're worried about censorship doesn't exactly strike me as the right reflex there." Zuckerberg differed with Twitter's approach, saying "I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online," and neither should other private companies. 

Are Jack and Mark interested in “the facts” or are they interested in the impact on their companies' bottom-line from fact-checking? A theme throughout this COVID19 pandemic has been that we are all in this together, I would say the same applies to fact-checking. It should not be up to federal regulators or Twitter and other social-media companies to be gatekeepers of speech but up to us the millions of Americans that use these platforms. Each of us has a responsibility to fact check before we retweet or share on Facebook. 


So, if you were in Sgt Friday’s shoes today could you get to just the facts?  

Give it a shot over on Factitious - http://factitious.augamestudio.com/#/

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