AFTER his relentless verbal onslaught against the mainstream media, US President Donald Trump has unleashed his wrath on social media companies. Through an executive order signed on Thursday, Mr Trump ordered the removal of some of the legal protections given to Twitter and Facebook. The move came after the microblogging social platform hid a tweet posted by Mr Trump, saying that it “glorifies violence”. In his tweet, Mr Trump warned people in Minneapolis who were protesting against the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer that he would send the military to intervene if there was “any difficulty”. The tweet was still accessible but a warning was added by the social media giant explaining Twitter’s policies and reducing the post’s algorithmic distribution.

Mr Trump is no stranger to controversy and has a record of aggressive behaviour towards journalists and critics. His antagonistic and combative manner with reporters at press conferences has now become a common feature of the news cycle. These fresh attacks on social media giants — which he ironically uses liberally to disseminate his views to circumvent traditional media — are a continuation of his sustained offensive against critics. The executive order is largely symbolic, as these threats will have to cross many legislative and procedural hurdles before they become law — if at all. But what Mr Trump is signalling clearly is that he will not tolerate criticism or evaluation, and that no matter how unpresidential his actions are, he will push back. Not only is this attitude unacceptable in a democracy, it is yet another alarming reminder that an impulsive and authoritarian leader is at the helm of affairs in a global superpower. At a time when the world is combating a pandemic which has overwhelmed healthcare systems and crippled economies, the president of the United States is throwing his toys out of the proverbial pram to make a point — that, too, a dangerous message loaded with threats.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020

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