Where boycotts and allegations of inciting violence or hatred have failed to get Big Tech to silence President Trump, copyright complaints have proven to be a much more successful weapon.
Facebook altered policies about election content in response to boycotts and Twitter has restricted the visibility of some of the president’s tweets in response to growing complaints, but total removal of the president’s content has been accomplished largely by adversaries charging copyright infringement.
Twitter removed an image from one of Mr. Trump’s tweets last week after The New York Times complained, according to Harvard University’s Lumen database.
Liberals such as Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California have tried and failed to get Twitter to delete Mr. Trump’s account, but The New York Times succeeded in getting content deleted according to Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Social media companies’ content enforcement decisions are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but not under Section 512 of DMCA, said Jesse Blumenthal, Stand Together vice president and Charles Koch Institute director of technology and innovation.
“What happens when you have a notice-and-takedown system like 512 is there are massive incentives for Twitter as a company to take something like that down if there’s even a slight chance it might be infringing,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Because they have received notice, if they don’t take it down they’re liable for statutory damages.”
If social media companies fail to act on DMCA complaints, they could be held liable for damages carrying six-figure penalties for each time someone accesses the copyrighted content. The high ceiling of potential monetary damages has made internet companies jump at many requests they might ignore if the content was questioned for any other reason.
Last month, Twitter took down a Trump campaign ad after receiving a copyright complaint.
“They are fighting hard for the Radical Left Democrats,” Mr. Trump tweeted of Twitter’s action. “A one-sided battle. Illegal. Section 230!”
But Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey replied that the content removal was not illegal and done to comply with DMCA.
In the interim, some of Mr. Trump’s prominent supporters have been felled by copyright complaints as well. Twitter removed prominent pro-Trump user @CarpeDonktum for allegedly repeatedly violating DMCA on its platform.
The company bringing the complaint against @CarpeDonktum, Jukin Media, had no ostensible anti-Trump mission, but it delivered a win for the president’s adversaries anyway.
Tattletale mechanisms have been used by media companies with far less success outside the copyright realm. After the NBC News Verification Unit said it had alerted Google to potential violations of the search engine’s policies by the conservative Federalist website, Google sprung into action. Google threatened to remove the Federalist from its advertising platform but didn’t go through with it after the conservative website made changes to its comments section.
Boycotts have similarly produced varying results. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign led by the Anti-Defamation League and NAACPS attracted some big-name participants such as Verizon and Hershey that were slow to follow through on a proposed boycott of Facebook ads.
The boycott secured some changes to election-related content moderation but did not alter how the company intends to address Mr. Trump directly. Facebook Vice President Nick Clegg urged users to make themselves heard at the ballot box on Election Day rather than use Facebook to hold politicians accountable.
Other tech titans are still pursuing ways of weaponizing tech against Mr. Trump. Reid Hoffman, a billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, said last week he has been looking at starting an anti-Trump boycott aimed at the president and has previously suggested he may spend upwards of $100 million against Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign.