Updated at 1:00 p.m. ET on June 9, 2020.
As the United States enters a pandemic summer, with more than 100,000 Americans already dead, and as tear gas engulfed Minneapolis last night, following protests after yet another killing of a black man by a police officer, the president tweeted that the “shooting starts” when the “looting starts.” The tweet echoed a historic line uttered by a police chief in Miami in 1967 during the civil-rights unrest that was also widely condemned at the time. Twitter hid that tweet behind a message saying that it was “glorifying violence”—a violation of the site’s terms of service—though users could still choose to view it by clicking through. All of this was an escalation of the seeming conflict between the president and Twitter: Just two days ago, the social-media company added a fact-check link to one of Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time. The president responded by issuing an executive order that is getting a lot of attention, but not the right kind.
The president’s order targets Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which confers immunity to internet companies for content they host but is generated by their users—something without which they could not operate as they now do. We’ve already seen a flood of lengthy commentaries and expert analyses of the legislative basis of the order. Legal experts have derided it as “unlawful and unenforceable.” A Vice News headline worried that it could “ruin the internet.” And a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU pointed out that “ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230”—because it gives him unfettered access to the public through social media. A New York Times analysis similarly said that the order could “harm one person in particular”: the president.