Saturday, August 18, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went to bat for Alex Jones.

On the seventeenth day of his latest vacation, Trump got up early to rant on Twitter about "social media" for its supposed discrimination against "Republican/Conservative voices." He didn't name names, but Trump was almost certainly referring to Twitter's recent seven-day suspension of Alex Jones. 

Jones is a radio and internet broadcaster who has said that the mass murder of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook was a hoax carried out by "crisis actors." He has raised funds on behalf of the Branch Davidians, and tells his listeners that black Americans (and Democrats) want to carry out "white genocide." He also claims to believe that the September 11th attacks were carried out by the United States, and that Hillary Clinton was running a child slavery ring in the basement of a D.C. area pizza parlor. (When threatened with lawsuits, Jones' "beliefs" tend to change very quickly.)

Trump's support for Jones, which runs in the family and the Trump administration in general, is at odds with his usual views on freedom of speech. It's more Trump's style to call for a "reform" of libel laws, apparently in the belief that this would make journalists less likely to say things that hurt his feelings. (Trump has threatened libel suits at least 45 times, and actually sued five times, though he has never won any such suit.) 

And Trump's insistence today that "Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police" is at odds with his recent attempt to force a publisher to cancel the sale of a book about him that he gave interviews for himself. 

All that having been said, there is another reason that Trump might want private, for-profit social media platforms to have to let anyone say anything on them. Actual "fake news," as in deliberately false propaganda, was spread as part of the Russian cyberattack on the 2016 election in an attempt to swing the election to Trump. Twitter in particular has been cracking down on those accounts.

Why is this a problem?

  • A president who thinks people who use their freedom of speech to oppose him "shouldn't be in the country" probably shouldn't go to bat for a man who makes up lies about murdered children to sell ads.
  • Free speech is not the same thing as speech that Donald Trump likes hearing.
  • It's wrong for a president to pressure private companies to do things that will hurt them just so he can score political points.