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Unintended Benefits of Trump’s Twitter Tantrum

Four years ago, progressive intergovernmental organizations like the European Union became increasingly concerned about the proliferation of hate speech on social media. They adopted legal mechanisms for removing Twitter accounts like Donald Trump’s. The provisions were directed at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In June of 2016, a “deconstruction” of these mechanisms was presented to one of the principal global industry standards bodies with a proposal to develop new protocols to rapidly remove such accounts. The proposal recognized that tweet messages such as Trump’s were essentially global malware, and used cybersecurity threat models to identify and remove the source account.

The proposal for the new takedown protocol standards was not adopted. However, the EU did proceed to advance the legal mechanism implementations to additional social media platforms and in 2019 claimed a degree of success in removing the worst hate speech identified to European authorities. Unfortunately, Trump’s Twitter account was not removed despite numerous parties identifying his messages as blatantly racist and xenophobic. The messages became so egregious that they led to a U.S. House of Representatives resolution condemning them. Twitter refused, however, to abide by the EU provisions.

The European Commission implements comprehensive and broad set of actions to tackle the spread and impact of online disinformation in Europe. (Image: European Commission)

During the past four years, the phenomenon of speech malware expanded into “fake speech.” The EU progressively began to tackle these societal disinformation threats as well. The threats were especially relevant to elections. Legal mechanisms similar to those dealing with hate speech were put into effect.

Over time, Trump’s hate speech evolved into fake speech—principally via Twitter messages. The messages became increasingly so “disinformative” that Twitter recently attempted to comply with its EU legal obligations through the labeling option. Trump on Thursday manifested a Tantrum by Executive Order against Twitter—purveying still further disinformation and asserting legal authority he does not have.

The Trump Tantrum against Twitter may have some unintended benefits to the larger world outside Trump’s office. Among other things, it allows the EU to make clear that Twitter was, in fact, complying with its legal obligations. Furthermore, removing liability protection for social media companies would make the laws throughout the world deal with hate and fake speech more compelling. It also renews the possibility of developing a new cybersecurity protocol for identifying and tagging tweet disinformation. Indeed, it opens up the possibility of going beyond just tagging Trump’s messages, but also terminating his account. Trump could even be memorialized in a sense by assigning his fake tweets with a unique cyber threat identifier and reported worldwide for implementing takedown remediation.

Note: The author was an invited expert to the November 1997 UNHCR conference on internet hate speech.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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