Opinion: What does Trump's election mean for digital freedom of speech?

What does Trump’s election mean for digital freedom of speech?
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As the shock of Donald Trump's election victory is giving way to analysis about how his presidency will affect Americans' lives, our digital freedom of speech deserves special consideration. The ability to express ourselves freely is a fundamental right guaranteed to us all.

There are three major elements that determine how free we are in our online expression: The press must be free to publish anything newsworthy about public officials without fear of serious reprisals. Online communications must be able to reach broad audiences without discrimination by internet service providers. And the government must not be able to spy indiscriminately on ordinary law-abiding Americans.

Before and during the campaign, Trump made pronouncements that suggest deep and widespread implications for digital freedom of speech if those ideas end up guiding his administration. As a scholar of digital communication, I am concerned about what he and his administration will do once in office. Trump's actions could result in weaker protections for our free press, less competition and higher prices for online consumers, certain forms of online censorship and a return to an intrusive online surveillance regime. The public must prepare to stand up to oppose these infringements on our rights.

Attacking the press

During his presidential bid, Donald Trump ran as much against the press as against his Republican primary opponents and Hillary Clinton. This was despite the fact that many press outlets were only doing what they usually do during campaigns: scrutinize both parties' front-runners and nominees.

Most candidates simply grin and bear the ritual press grillings, but not Trump. He showed an unusually thin skin for a presidential contender, directly attacking the press during raucous rallies and routinely banning certain news outlets from covering his campaign.

But he also went beyond even these extraordinary steps, suggesting that he would "open up" libel laws to make it easier for public figures to sue news outlets: "[W]hen people write incorrectly about you and you can prove that they wrote incorrectly, we're going to get them through the court system to change and we're going to get them to pay damages," said Trump.

This is, in fact, what current libel law already allows. Strikingly, Trump has combined his seeming ignorance of libel law (despite his many years in the public eye) with a sense that today's existing restrictions on the press are too loose. This suggests that he may seek to enshrine in law or policy his particular animosity toward the press.

He also has been willing to attack any and all critics, including private citizens. Combined, these elements raise questions about the degree, if any, to which Trump values freedom of the press, digital or otherwise.

His Cabinet appointments do not inspire confidence in his support of this principle, either. During his confirmation hearing, Trump's nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, dodged questions about his willingness to prosecute journalists based on their reporting, including handling leaks from government employees. He has also opposed a federal shield law that would protect journalists against such prosecutions.

Threatening an open internet

Network neutrality was not a hot topic during this presidential election, but that may change during a Trump administration.


Donald Trump attacks the media in this CNN clip.

During the debate over net neutrality in 2014, Trump tweeted that the policy was a "top down power grab" that would "target conservative media." He appears to have conflated 's nondiscrimination principle with the now-defunct Fairness Doctrine. That policy, discontinued in 1987, required broadcasters to devote equal time to opposing views about controversial public issues. It's hard to know which is more worrying: his early antipathy toward net neutrality, or his objections despite not knowing what it actually means.

Whatever Trump himself understands, his appointments look like bad news for supporters of an open internet. President-elect Trump has named Jeffrey Eisenach and Mark Jamison to oversee the transition at the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees internet communications policy. Both are staff members at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and former lobbyists for major telecommunications companies. Both are also vocal opponents of net neutrality. Also on his FCC transition team are Roslyn Layton, another staff member at AEI and vocal net neutrality opponent, and North Carolina telecom entrepreneur David Morken.

Morken is not on record as opposing net neutrality, but so far its supporters seem outnumbered. Those signs suggest that a Trump administration could enable an internet where wealthy people and companies can afford to distribute their content everywhere quickly, while regular people and small businesses can't attract an audience or deliver content efficiently.

Perpetuating the surveillance state

During the campaign, candidate Trump supported keeping or restoring the NSA's secret surveillance programs, which former agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed in 2013. Those programs, with a questionable legal basis, collected internet and telephone communications from all Americans, storing them in a massive government database.

Although Congress voted across partisan lines to eliminate these programs in 2015, Trump's election may help revive them. He has named Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), a supporter of the NSA surveillance programs Congress eliminated, as the next CIA director.

The programs are unpopular with Americans: It is perhaps no coincidence that interest in technologies that would make government surveillance more difficult, such as encrypted email and encrypted instant messaging apps, has surged since Trump's election.

How successful could Trump be?

We are not necessarily doomed to lose our digital freedom of speech. As with any public policy question, the answer is more complicated. Should Trump begin to wage on a full-fledged assault on digital expression, the degree to which he can succeed may be limited.

One factor is his ability to navigate the extremely complex and time-consuming obstacle course that is the American system of government. With its separation of powers, bicameral legislature, multiple layers of jurisdiction and endless veto points, the American system strongly favors inertia over just about any course of action.

But a highly motivated president with an authoritarian streak could potentially cut through this inertia by, for example, embracing a strong unitary executive view of the presidency.

When the public gets involved, even seemingly entrenched plans can be derailed, or even reversed. For example, a mass of public involvement (with a little assistance from comedian John Oliver) transformed the initial net neutrality debate.

This power the public holds – if it chooses to wield it – can be used in two ways: First, it can resist unwelcome changes, by reinforcing the political tendency toward inertia and the status quo. And second, it can drive policymakers to better serve the public who employ them. It's unclear at present which tactic protecting our digital freedom of speech will require – or whether we'll need both. In American politics, elections may have consequences, but they're never the end of the story.


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Citation: Opinion: What does Trump's election mean for digital freedom of speech? (2017, January 16) retrieved 23 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-01-opinion-trump-election-digital-freedom.html
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KBK
Jan 16, 2017
The biggest problem is the oligarch run deep state, which has worked hard at being hidden. Over the years, it has risen into a horrid shape, a behemoth with it's fingers into everything.

Trump is a a problem for all of us but he's less of a problem that Hillary would ever be. Hillary was the choice and heir apparent for this deep state system of government.

Trump may be an asshat, but he will begin the process, and has begun the process -- of Exposing the deep state ----that desires so strongly to remain hidden.

The majority of the public does not understand the existence of the deep state.

If the deep state is exposed in the public eye, it will not be able to hide anymore, it will not be able to control public figures as patsies and stooges. The deep state will no longer be able to drive America around like a half used condom in a multi-stage rape attack...which is what it's been doing to the USA for the past +70 years, at a minimum.

Jan 16, 2017
Your "deep state" has been overcome by Putin.

KBK
Jan 16, 2017
Trumps randomness and lack of use of the forced apparatus of the news system and using twitter directly instead and his lack of self control, will..and IS exposing the deep state.

They ~will~ try to do something about him. Lies, falsehoods, created news, and patsies (you know what this means....Oswald!) will be brought forward.

Trump will build enemies everywhere, especially in a system that is so unbelievably complex and corrupt, that no matter where one goes or what they do, they run in to parasite sociopaths and brigands at all levels--- from civil, to judicial, to political, national, security, armaments, military, space, social, medical, pharmaceutical, and so on.

Prominent Americans, through time, have strongly warned about the existence of the deep state and how it controls everything and uses the USA like a brain dead raped cow.

Trumps inability to get along with them --begins to expose their existence to the public, and for that alone, he is sorely needed.

KBK
Jan 16, 2017
Your "deep state" has been overcome by Putin.


A university of Oregon study illustrated that over 85% of all major media was controlled by 6 companies, run by 6 people, all of whom are of one single ethnic and religious background. One that is deeply clannish and interconnected.

Since that time of the study, the number has increased to 95% of all US media being controlled by those 6 people who are united in religion and orientation. a religion where people not of it are considered animals, owned and to be lied to on all levels. god says so, kinda thing. Good luck getting reason, balance, and fairness out of that.

The Putin scare was and is a deep state operation ...run in conjunction with the media system.

This is why Trump is using twitter.

So, you are either ignorant, or you are somebody's bitch.

I don't care for Trump, but his misanthropic stumbling about is shining light into areas that desperately NEED to be exposed to the public mind.

Jan 16, 2017
Areas such as torture?

Spreading nuclear weapons?

"Standing up" to trade partners?

Are you serious?

KBK
Jan 16, 2017
Areas such as torture?

Spreading nuclear weapons?

"Standing up" to trade partners?

Are you serious?


Don't put your stumbling thoughts and words into my mouth by trying to make the window dressing in this clown show of a presidency......somehow become the real thing being dealt with.

That's your ignorance showing itself.

Jan 16, 2017
Trump is not going to give you or me any "digital freedom". The person who wants to make it illegal to disparage him is no champion of freedom.

He is prickly and emotionally-unstable. Things get stuck in his little craw until he does something really stupid about it.

"Baited with a Tweet"

- The epitaph of the United States of America

Jan 16, 2017
so whats this anti trump propaganda doing on a science site ?

Jan 16, 2017
This is a genuine concern regarding important factors in our society.

If it turns out to be anti-Trump it is because of his positions are anti-democratic, erratic, and shallow.

Jan 16, 2017
so whats this anti trump propaganda doing on a science site ?

The 'NET' is what it is about, read the article...

Prepare for some major funding cuts!

Jan 16, 2017
'''During his presidential bid, Donald Trump ran as much against the press as against his ''Republican primary opponents and Hillary Clinton. This was despite the fact that many press outlets were only doing what they usually do during campaigns: scrutinize both parties' front-runners and nominees.''

so whats this anti trump propaganda doing on a science site ?

so you science guys can't figure this out ?? HaHaHa lol


Jan 17, 2017
Fear sells! Here we go again. The sky is falling. THE SKY IS FALLING!

Jan 17, 2017
No, rderkis, that was "WMD!".

This is real.

Jan 17, 2017
No one has ever caused as much damage to free speech in the Untied States as Barack Obama and his tireless pursuit of ''fairness'' blather and his attempt to stifle Conservative radio and Conservative press. Clinton would have continued this oppressive policies nay expanded them so it is puzzle to me why all of the snowflakes are so frightened of Trump who has said nothing about stifling free speech.

Jan 17, 2017
so whats this anti trump propaganda doing on a science site ?

Which part of the article do you think is 'propaganda'? Do you even know what the word propaganda means? I somehow doubt it.

Jan 17, 2017
No, rderkis, that was "WMD!". This is real.


Yes this is REAL! The sky is falling. THE SKY IS FALLING!
Put on your tin foil hat qkam.

Jan 24, 2017
And, among other things, what if the "press" truthfully reported that a candidate made comments contemptuous of women, but, then, they deliberately failed to mention that every other millionaires and politician spoke the same way, in "locker room talk"? The story about a Sunday newspaper magazine running the question on the cover, "Is there anything between Bo Derek and Yogi Berra?". Then, if you go to the page, you are flooded with advertisements and a blurb saying, "No." It's used in many areas. Vaccine shills use the "argument", "Vaccines have helped many people in the past", leaving it to the gullible to "conclude" that vaccines today must be being made as correctly and ethically as they used to be! Note, the article begins with what can be called a non journalistic editorialization of Trump's presidency being a "shock", which, for many people, it isn't!

Jan 24, 2017
Julian, are you in a cult? I am serious, and not being offensive. Your hardline positions are so far out of normality, I thought you may be in an environment with restricted contact with the outside world.

I am not being snarky, I want to know how folk get these opinions.

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