The President Versus the Mods

In Twitter’s case, the company is enforcing rules it already had on its books — one prohibiting misinformation related to the voting process, and another prohibiting glorifying violence. They’re both clear, sensible rules, and Mr. Trump’s punishment for breaking them was relatively gentle. Twitter didn’t ban Mr. Trump or take down his tweets. It placed a small disclaimer on two of them — a pair of baseless tweets stating that mail-in ballots were ripe for voter fraud — and put a warning label on another.

But given Twitter’s history of permissiveness with Mr. Trump, any action to restrain him was bound to cause a stir. And Mr. Trump and his allies wasted no time going nuclear.

After the fact-check response, his campaign released a statement accusing Twitter of conspiring to “pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters.” He also signed an executive order calling for greater scrutiny of social media platforms, and threatening to limit Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the much-cited passage that gives legal immunity to internet companies for user-generated content that appears on their platforms.

These may be empty threats. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are private enterprises, with no First Amendment obligations to users, and courts have consistently ruled that these companies can set their own rules, just as restaurants can require guests to wear shirts and shoes.

But Mr. Trump — whose entire online personality is built on pushing boundaries, and whose re-election campaign has already had some of its ads taken down for violating Facebook’s rules — has a strategic interest in getting the mods off his back, by intimidating social media executives into letting him post with impunity.

Facebook seems to have gotten Mr. Trump’s message. Before this week, it had very clear policies in place to prohibit voter suppression that even politicians, who are exempt from many of Facebook’s rules, were required to follow. But on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, went on Fox News to say that the company would not fact-check Mr. Trump’s claim about mail-in voting, and that he was uncomfortable acting as an “arbiter of truth.” As of Friday morning, Mr. Trump’s statement implying that the Minneapolis protesters could be shot was still gathering likes on his Facebook page, with no warning labels in sight.

I’ll leave Mr. Zuckerberg’s motives for others to decode. But in my experience, mods who cede ground to bad-faith boundary-pushers have not found it easy to keep their communities on the rails.

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