Former President Trump has unveiled his long-discussed plans for his own social network. And in a twist of irony, the site, known as Truth Social, will benefit directly from the very law that Trump tried to destroy while in office: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Trump’s social network will let him communicate with the millions of users who followed him across Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB), and YouTube (GOOG, GOOGL), before those sites banned him for arguably inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He previously hosted a pseudo social site of his own, called From the Desk of Donald J. Trump, but it was taken offline after a month due to a lack of users.
Truth Social, which will launch in beta next month and be generally available in the first quarter of 2022, is also going public via a SPAC merger with Digital World Acquisition Corp (DWAC). The company was up nearly 400% around 2 p.m. ET Thursday.
'Twenty-six words that created the internet'
Famously referred to as “The twenty-six words that created the internet,” by law professor Jeff Kosseff in his book of the same name, Section 230 shields internet companies from liability for posts by third-party users, and allows them to moderate content. While some Republicans claim the law allows for the censorship of right-wing voices, some Democrats say that it allows social media companies, like Facebook, to host disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech, without facing any consequences.
That dangerous content arguably included tweets from Trump, who often used Twitter as his de facto mouthpiece. In 280 characters, Trump made abrupt policy decisions, attacked his critics, and even fired people. Twitter finally began cracking down on Trump’s account when he posted “When the looting starts the shooting starts” in the wake of protests and rioting following the police murder of George Floyd.
The site, along with Facebook, also either blocked or labeled as “false” posts Trump wrote spreading lies about the pandemic and 2020 election.
The move, coupled with unproven allegations by Republicans in Congress that leading social media sites harbor a bias against right-leaning users, spurred Trump to order the Commerce Department to have the Federal Communications Commission look at narrowing the scope of Section 230. President Joe Biden revoked the order in May 2021.
Still, Biden has in the past called for the abolition of Section 230 — and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has even suggested the law be changed. Under his proposal, companies would still have the same liability protections, but on the condition that they had automated systems in place to ferret out “unlawful content.”
Dismantling Section 230, however, could force websites to either not host user content at all, or allow all content including posts that the site itself finds objectionable. It could also open up smaller sites to an endless parade of lawsuits, which would severely disadvantage upstarts, such as Truth Social, while favoring giant firms like Facebook, Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University School of Law Professor, previously told Yahoo Finance.
That’s because big tech companies have war chests large enough to continue litigating cases until the heat death of the Sun.
“So many people are attempting to equate the internet with Google and Facebook,” Goldman said. “...Section 230 protects the entire ecosystem, not just the people at the very top.”
Like much of the internet, Truth Social needs user content, as well as the ability to moderate that content. And for that to happen without costing the company millions in legal fees, it needs Section 230. Or else it won’t exist at all.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the site would go live in the first half of 2021. In fact, it was 2022.
Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at email@example.com over via encrypted mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.