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Trump’s social-media order isn’t crazy, and it will probably work.
After becoming enraged that Twitter flagged two of his tweets as misleading, Trump is planning to sign an executive order that might compel Twitter and other social-media platforms to let him say whatever he wants.
A reported draft of the executive order appeared online.
The draft order would make social-media companies liable for what their users post. This would enable people to sue the companies for libel, defamation, and other infractions, the same way they can currently sue newspaper companies, TV networks, and other publishers.
Right now, social-media companies are protected from such liability by a law that treats the companies not as information publishers but as mere information distributors — like telephone and mail-delivery companies instead of newspaper companies.
For many reasons, social-media companies are desperate to keep their current status. It is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to fact-check and otherwise police everything that people post. It is easier, less controversial, and often more profitable to allow people to communicate what they want.
But Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media companies already do police the content they distribute. They don’t allow pornography or drug or weapons sales, for example. They don’t allow broadcasts of murders. They have many other rules and policies that regulate what people can and can’t post. And now, in the case of Twitter with Trump, they’re getting more aggressive about policing posts they regard as “misleading.”
Trump’s draft order makes a clever argument that goes right at this in-between behavior. If the social-media companies are going to take responsibility for some content, the administration argues, they should take responsibility for all of it.
That’s a reasonable argument.
If Facebook, for example, is going to say that it’s not OK to publish one particular post, then it is implicitly saying that all other posts are OK.
Now, Trump’s goal here is obviously not to get Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media companies to more aggressively police what they publish. If the companies did that, more of Trump’s own tweets and posts might get flagged or deleted.
Instead, Trump’s goal is to force the companies to be even more hands-off — to interfere less, and, therefore, to allow him and his supporters to post whatever they want.
Trump’s contention, after all, is that the social-media companies are biased against the right. Trump is hoping his threats will cow the companies into doing even less, rather than more.
The effect of Trump’s executive order itself will be limited. Trump does not have the power to single-handedly change laws or force private companies to do anything.
Trump does occupy the “bully pulpit,” and he does have the ability to bully the Justice Department, FCC, and Congress, perhaps enough to get them to change how they enforce the law, or even change the law itself.
Trump also has the ability to bully the social-media companies. And if Trump has demonstrated anything over the past three years, it is that he is an expert at effective bullying.
After the draft order was published, astute observers suggested that Trump’s real goal here is to “work the refs” — to bully the social-media companies into cutting him more slack in the months leading up to the election, so he and his campaign and supporters can have more freedom to do and say what they want.
Judging by the speed with which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg raced to a TV camera this morning to say that Facebook would not fact-check Trump the way Twitter did, this bullying seems likely to work. —HB
Japan’s experience is bad news for clubbers and gym-goers and good news for subway and bus riders.
Many countries have conquered the coronavirus, at least for now. New Zealand just discharged its last patient from the hospital. Japan is lifting its state of emergency. And so on.
Japan’s success, moreover, comes despite a relatively loose lockdown and a lack of widespread testing.
Where Japan excelled has been in “contact tracing,” the investigation of who each sick person came into contact with, when, and where. In addition to notifying those who have potentially been exposed, Japan quickly learned about where most infections occurred and adjusted its strategy accordingly.
As Dennis Demile reports in Science, Japan found that “most clusters originated in gyms, pubs, live music venues, karaoke rooms, and similar establishments where people gather, eat and drink, chat, sing, and work out or dance, rubbing shoulders for relatively extended periods of time.” Japan built its messaging around this finding, telling its citizens to avoid the “three Cs” — closed spaces, crowds, and close contact.
Importantly, Japan also did not find any infection clusters that originated on its crowded trains. Why not? Most people ride the trains alone and therefore don’t talk. And most riders now wear masks. This is good news for New York and other cities that depend on subways and other public transportation. —HB
Is it safe for me to go to work?
As states and cities reopen, a lot more people will go back to their workplaces. They’ll wonder how safe they are and how to protect themselves.
To help answer these questions, in the New England Journal of Medicine, Marc Larochelle put together a draft framework for assessing and mitigating workplace risk:
Europe bans Trump’s favorite coronavirus drug. The hits keep coming for the drug Trump once touted as a “game-changer” for the coronavirus — hydroxychloroquine. Europe has now banned the drug as a treatment for COVID-19 after concluding that it doesn’t help and its side effects are too dangerous. The only remaining question is whether HCQ can help prevent people from catching the virus, the theory Trump himself appeared to be relying on when he announced that he himself was taking the drug. (He now says he’s no longer taking it.) The results of a big study on that question are expected this summer.
Researchers think they’ve found an easy way to discover coronavirus outbreaks ahead of time — by testing sewage! Currently, the best way to spot coronavirus outbreaks is to test people with symptoms. The problem with this method is that it’s slow and late: By the time someone has symptoms, they’ve already likely spread the virus to others. Happily, researchers from Yale believe they’ve found a better “leading indicator” of outbreaks: testing sewage sludge. In this preliminary study, the researchers conclude that virus in sewage leads positive tests of virus in people and hospitalizations by seven and three days, respectively: Virus in sewage (red line). Coronavirus cases (black line).
So far, the US has avoided the dreaded “second surge” — but keep an eye on Alabama, Texas, California, and other states. Overall, “reopening” in the US has gone better than many observers feared. Nationwide case and death counts are declining, and early-opening states like Georgia and Florida are still doing OK. There are still plenty of places to be concerned about, however, some of which have not been hit hard before. Cases in California continue to rise, for example. And in Alabama they are “surging.”
The Trump White House will break tradition and not publish a forecast for the federal deficit. The combination of tax cuts, emergency spending, and lower tax revenue from the weak economy is ballooning the federal deficit. Each summer, the White House releases a “mid-session review” that includes a forecast for future deficits. The Trump administration says it won’t do that this year. It claims it’s because the future is too uncertain to make forecasts. Anyone believe that?
US unemployment claims soar past 40 million. Another 2.1 million Americans filed for benefits this week. Plus, Insider asked 18 top economists and lawmakers how to put the jobless back to work.
Billionaires blow it too. Carl Icahn lost nearly $2 billion in Hertz stock after the car-rental company went bust. Remember that next time you make a stock pick. (Or, better yet, don’t pick stocks at all. Buy index funds. No one knows the future. Diversification is your friend.)
How Dave Clark, Amazon’s SVP of worldwide operations, has become one of the most powerful American business executives. An Amazon lifer, he masterminds the company’s pandemic response, from its controversial warehouse operations to its incredible shipping network.
The 10 strangest places people have been stuck during the pandemic. Including the Fyre Festival island, an Arctic ice floe, and inside a zoo.
For a week, YouTube was a dating site. Insider talked to the founders, investors, and first employees about YouTube’s chaotic early days. They set up the platform to host dating videos, but no one submitted dating videos.
20 products and apps we swear by to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up well rested
Elon Musk designed those fantastic spacesuits. The SpaceX founder says he worked for “three or four years” on the suits for Crew Dragon, and wanted them to look cool so they would get kids “fired up.” Mission accomplished!
2 Minneapolis police officers fired over George Floyd’s death had been involved in earlier violent incidents. Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck, had been the subject of 10 civilian complaints and involved in three police shootings. Another officer on the scene, Tou Thao, settled an excessive-force suit out of court in 2017.
YouTube parenting influencer slammed for ‘rehoming’ her disabled son. Myka Stauffer, who had made videos about her adopted son, is being criticized for having monetized her child, then giving him up because of his developmental and medical challenges.
*The most popular stories on Insider today.
On our view that we’ve lost the war in Afghanistan and it’s time to go home:
We’ve been fighting the war on crime for centuries and it still persists. We’ve become trapped in the sunk-cost fallacy; instead of wasting more lives and resources, we should just withdraw. Yes, it will be a tragedy for the victims of crime, but that is not decisive. “It should make us want to get out tomorrow, and not waste one more life or one more dollar on a lost cause.”
Cognitive scientists call this a matter of “framing.” The war frame has the features of a limited term followed by a win or a loss. But what if the war frame, promoted by hawks to stir patriotic support, is the wrong frame? What if a better frame is policing, the maintenance of a somewhat stable and just society where, within the limits of the law, people have a degree of liberty over personal and family matters, where women can go to school? If we withdraw, are we in part responsible for creating a society where uneducated religious fundamentalist hold the levers of power including the power of life and death? What if the policing effort is sustainable, with fewer US casualties of all causes in 2018 (15) than police officers who died in the line of duty in the US (106 of all causes, 55 killed)?
Our hands in Afghanistan are not innocent. We flooded the country with weapons in our “covert” campaign against the USSR-supported government, and then abandoned the country to the warlords we’d empowered. It’s easy for an imperial power like us to go in and leave as we please. It’s hell on the people we treat as markers on the chessboard. Perhaps you should make your case for withdrawal to them.
On our story about how Americans used to view having to wear seat belts as tyrannical government intrusions on freedom:
Regarding your photo of seat belts, I was reminding my nearly 21-year-old daughter about the fights that erupted when we first banned smoking on planes. I was explaining why we still have announcements that it is a federal crime to tamper with smoke detectors, telling her people would attempt to smoke in the restroom or light up as they exited the plane (when smoking was still allowed in the terminal). There will always be a group resistant to any change.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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