Today, for the first time, Twitter attached a warning label in a tweet from president Trump. As a reaction, he tweeted:

....Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!

In the unlikely scenario that Twitter takes a more drastic action, like banning Trump's account for violating its T&Cs, what kind of (legal) retaliatory measures could Trump — as a president, as he said — take against a business like Twitter?


4 Answers 4


One legal pathway that has been proposed (ironically, on Twitter) by Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley is some sort of review of Twitter's protections under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Subsection (c) of this section states:

(c) Protection for ''Good Samaritan'' blocking and screening of offensive material

  • (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker - No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
  • (2) Civil liability - No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of -
    • (A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
    • (B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).

This section means that Twitter's actions are protected by law. Rubio, however, makes the argument that Twitter's actions confirm their role as a publisher, which he argues means they should no longer receive the protections conferred by this Act:

The law still protects social media companies like @Twitter because they are considered forums not publishers.

But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law.

Hawley makes a similar argument, referring to the Act's provisions as a "sweetheart deal".

And @Twitter is getting subsidized by the federal government for that interference in the form of special immunity worth billions. Time to end #BigTech sweetheart deal w/ government

It should be noted that Hawley has made similar arguments before, for example in April, when he called for a third-party audit of the platform's suspension policy.

The initial pathway open to Trump, then, at least as proposed by certain Republican Senators, seems to surround either the repeal of this part of the Act, or some sort of argument that due to Twitter's adoption of an 'editorial role' in attaching the warnings to Trump's tweets, that the legal protections detailed above should no longer apply to the website.

If Twitter no longer benefitted from the protections it currently enjoys under the provisions of Section 230, the website could itself become legally responsible for any illegal content posted on the site by its users. The EFF has published an infographic with more information on Section 230, including the statement that sites could be sued every time a user posted objectionable material.

  • Can Trump, as President suspend or repeal the regulations that shield Twitter from liability? Or would such a change have to go through Congress (I.E. needs Democrat approval)?
    – Dan Scally
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 13:11
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    @DanScally to repeal the act it would have to go through Congress, to direct how the act applies to Twitter specifically could possibly be achieved, or at the very least, attempted, through an executive order. Realistically, we won't know until he tries it, and it's inevitably challenged in the courts.
    – CDJB
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 13:16
  • 1
    As a purely practical matter, Trump almost certainly could not do anything that involves changing or repealing existing law, as it would have to be passed by both houses of Congress, and the Democratic House majority would be highly unlikely to go along. (And of course there would be political consequences to even trying.)
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 16:58
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    I still don't understand. Section (c).(1) says "no provider of an interactive computer service ... shall be treated as the publisher [of another user's content]". So what exactly is the line of reasoning that renders this clause inapplicable?
    – Pasha
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 18:22
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    Of course if Trump goes down this line of making Twitter legally accountable for the content on it's platform - it then makes it mandatory for Twitter to take down any content that IT deems offensive - and that could include much of what Trump including his misinformation and ad-hominem attacks on critics. Commented May 29, 2020 at 10:23

I know your question said "legal", and I'm assuming you meant "legal as in profession" vs "legal as in not illegal". However, this being Politics.SE, you would be missing the most obvious retaliatory action, the political one - exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt's pithy phrase describing the Presidency as the Bully Pulpit.

In other words, Trump wields one of the world's largest loudspeakers, as a President of the USA and a de-facto leader of one of its two main political parties.

As such, he can influence and - in his hopes - persuade - a large number of his followers to retaliate against Twitter in any number of ways - the most obvious (legal) one being, boycotting the company; or publicly waging an advertiser boycott (I'm not a Twitter user, so forgive me if Twitter does not rely on ads for revenue when I assume it does).

Both of those have been widely deployed - and often successful - tactics employed by both political sides, more successfully recently deployed by progressives/left.

Other things he can theoretically do is influence someone to create a Twitter competitor - especially as far as investing funds into such a venture (the question of the efficacy of that approach being irrelevant to this Q&A).

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about the effects of the POTUS leaving Twitter has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 7:32

For all intents and purposes, nothing. Nothing at all. It's all bluster on his part and wanting to paint himself, yet again, as a victim for his base.

  1. The leader of the government unilaterally cracking down on a social media site because he didn't like something they said in response to his posts would be the very epitome of a government "infringing on free speech." He'd get laughed out of court, and he'd be hard-pressed to even find a lower level court in Texas that would back him up for such a textbook, cartoonish soiling of the First Amendment.

  2. His justification that they were infringing upon his own free speech is complete nonsense. They did not restrict or alter any of his posts in any way. They are still out there, as he posted them. There's no way he can claim that his right to express his views had been restricted in any way. My commenting on the relative merits, foolishness, accuracy or fallacy of statements of the president are in no way anything that restricts anyone's free speech, anywhere, including his.

  3. Given that Twitter has explicitly allowed him free rein to violate their standards and policies, he would not be able to make a case that he was shown any kind of disparate unfair treatment at their hands, should any Executive Order be challenged in court, which it absolutely would.

T.J. said he has tried to honor his late wife by protecting her memory "as I would have protected her in life."

He said that's why he was writing to Dorsey.

"The President's tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) — is a violation of Twitter's community rules and terms of service," he wrote. "An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed."....

.... Twitter told CNN Business that it would not be removing the tweets.

  1. Any order forcing Twitter to not allow people to be treated unfairly on their platform would run the risk of having Trump's content removed or his account suspended or deleted, if he wanted to force some action.

  2. Twitter is a private entity, and people have to agree to their rules, conditions and policies to participate on their platform. Trump agreed to this, and his options, like anyone else who doesn't like it, would be to leave that platform.

  • 6
    While I personally agree with everything written in this answer, I still decided to downvote it. The reason is that this answer seems to focus more on providing political commentary and opinion than on actually answering the question.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 7:30
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    @Philipp - Your decision to upvote, downvote or neither is, of course, your own. When the answer is "nothing," and I elaborate on why it's nothing, I'm not sure why you think there's not a focus on answering the question. I appreciate the feedback, regardless. If you can point to anything that isn't factually accurate, feel free. Commented May 29, 2020 at 7:49
  • Nitpick to an otherwise excellent answer, but it's "free rein" rather than "free reign": merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/usage-free-rein-vs-free-reign
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 19:44
  • @jamesqf - Weird how, when typing, muscle memory overrides conscious knowledge. Thank you. Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 13:55
  • @PoloHoleSet: Yeah, my personal bugaboo is that/than. Never know (and often don't realize until much later) that I typed one when I meant the other.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 5:40

Since Democrats control the House he can do very little.

If Republicans controlled the house and senate he could try to pass a law that would accidentally cost Twitter billions in compliance/lost revenue.

He could leave Twitter, but problem here is that many voters are too lazy to register on gab.com or wherever he would move to, so he needs to stay on twitter.

  • I dunno, if Trump created his own Twitter-like site (Trumpetter?) he might not get a bad turn-out for it. :-) Commented May 30, 2020 at 7:33

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