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Trump signs social media executive order targeting political bias

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday to force social media companies to operate without political bias, saying platforms such as Twitter form a monopoly with “unchecked power.” “We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers it has faced in American history,” Mr. Trump said as he signed the order…

Trump signs social media executive order targeting political bias

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday to force social media companies to operate without political bias, saying platforms such as Twitter form a monopoly with “unchecked power.”

“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers it has faced in American history,” Mr. Trump said as he signed the order in the Oval Office with Attorney General William Barr at his side. “There’s no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction.”

The order requires the Federal Communications Commission to craft a regulation that could exempt social media companies from protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields companies from legal liability for material posted by their users, if they censor or edit content.

The president, who has long criticized the social media giants for an anti-conservative bias, said his order will ensure that any platforms “that engage in censoring or any political conduct” will lose their liability protections.

“Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not,” Mr. Trump said. “They’ve had unchecked power to censure, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences. We’re fed up with it.”

The president signed the order just two days after Twitter, for the first time, posted fact-checking labels on two of his tweets in which he criticized states’ efforts to expand voting by mail. The labels directed users to fact-checking by media outlets such as The Washington Post and CNN, which stated that the president made an “unsubstantiated claim” about mail-in voting leading to widespread voter fraud.

Mr. Trump took the election-year action as he trails presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden in national polls and in polling averages of several battleground states.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called the president’s order a “desperate distraction” from the coronavirus crisis.

“The president’s executive order does nothing to address big internet companies’ complete failure to fight the spread of disinformation,” Mrs. Pelosi said in a statement. “Instead the president is encouraging Facebook and other social media giants to continue to exploit and profit off falsehoods with total impunity — while at the same time directing the federal government to dismantle efforts to help users distinguish fact from fiction.”

Twitter had no immediate reaction, although CEO Jack Dorsey said earlier that his company is not trying to be an “arbiter of truth.”

“Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,” Mr. Dorsey tweeted Wednesday night. “More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called out Twitter for labeling Mr. Trump’s tweets. He told Fox News that privately owned digital platforms should not act as the “arbiter of truth.”

“Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that,” he said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce took the unusual step of criticizing Mr. Trump’s order soon after he signed it.

“Regardless of the circumstances that led up to this, this is not how public policy is made in the United States,” the nation’s largest business group said. “An executive order cannot be properly used to change federal law.”

Mr. Barr will work with states on developing their own regulations. The attorney general said social media companies have “stretched” the intent of the 1990s-era law to enrich themselves and grow more powerful.

“They are using that market power to force particular viewpoints, and that’s wrong,” Mr. Barr said. “This will help to get back to the right balance.”

The president has more than 80 million Twitter followers. Some Democratic and media critics say Mr. Trump is trying to create special online treatment for himself. Earlier in the day, he retweeted a video of a New Mexico supporter saying “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

Asked why he doesn’t delete his Twitter accounts, Mr. Trump replied, “If we had fair press in this country, I would do that in a heartbeat.”

Ironically, Mr. Biden called this year for Section 230 to be rescinded entirely.

“Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, No. 1,” Mr. Biden told The New York Times editorial board in January, “for [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg and other platforms.”

Mr. Biden is isolated on the issue from many in his party, including Mrs. Pelosi.

The president’s order also calls for the White House office of digital strategy to revive an online tool enabling people to report “online censorship and other potentially unfair or deceptive acts or practices by online platforms.” Those complaints would be submitted to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

The order also prohibits federal agencies from spending tax dollars on advertising with platforms that violate free speech.

“Taxpayer dollars are not going to any social media companies that suppress free speech,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re rich enough.”

Conservatives have long accused social media giants of political bias. They point to examples of high-profile conservatives being barred from the platforms.

Media Research Center President Brent Bozell said Twitter, Facebook and other big-tech companies “are guilty of censoring conservatives, and their protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be reviewed.”

“Both Twitter and Facebook have embraced so-called ‘fact-checkers’ to moderate content, and almost all of them are left-wing and use their authority to push a leftist agenda,” Mr. Bozell said. “This problem began as a primal scream from Silicon Valley leftists devastated over the result of the 2016 election. Now, many in Big Tech are doing everything in their power to discredit the president and derail his reelection. The right doesn’t want to wreck the internet; it wants to preserve it as the open forum it was intended to be.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said if Twitter, Google and other social media companies “are going to editorialize and censor and act like traditional publishers, they should be treated like traditional publishers and stop receiving the special carve-out from the federal government in Section 230.” Mr. Hawley has introduced legislation to change the law.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who co-authored Section 230 of the law, said the president’s order is an effort “to chill speech and bully companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter into giving him favorable treatment.”

“Donald Trump’s order is plainly illegal,” Mr. Wyden said. “He’s clearly targeting Section 230 because it protects private businesses’ right not to have to play host to his lies. There is nothing in the law about political neutrality. It does not say companies like Twitter are forced to carry misinformation about voting, especially from the president. Efforts to erode Section 230 will only make online content more likely to be false and dangerous.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said Mr. Trump is trying to engage in his own version of censorship.

ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane said the president “has no authority to rewrite a congressional statute with an executive order imposing a flawed interpretation of Section 230.”

“Section 230 incentivizes platforms to host all sorts of content without fear of being held liable for it. It enables speech, not censorship,” she said.

Marty Lederman, a professor at the Georgetown Law Center, called the pending executive order “a political document, intended to rile up the base,” tweeting that it is “bluster w/o effect.”

He said even if Mr. Trump orders Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to direct the FCC to come up with a proposed regulation, “it’s hard to imagine the FCC doing anything with it.” He also predicted the independent Federal Trade Commission would ignore such a directive.

Jim Manley, a lawyer with the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation, called the president’s order “completely backward” in its approach to the First Amendment.

“These platforms have a First Amendment right to decide what sort of content they’re going to host,” he said in an interview. “And there may be implications under Section 230 if they make decisions about content, but the companies have a First Amendment right to decide what content they host and how they host it.”

Mr. Trump and his advisers pointed to biased comments by Twitter executive Yoel Roth, who has tweeted about “actual Nazis in the White House” and referred to Mr. Trump after the 2016 election as “a racist tangerine.”

Mr. Dorsey responded, “There is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”

As he signed the order, the president renewed his arguments against expanded voting by mail, which is being pushed in several states as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we went to mail-in balloting, our election would look all over the world as a total joke,” the president told reporters, citing California’s mailing of ballots to millions of registered voters. “There’s such fraud and abuse. The Republican Party cannot let it happen. There’s ballot harvesting. You don’t think they rip them out of mailboxes? They can even print ballots. You have tremendous potential for fraud and abuse.

“No,” he said, “you have to go [in person] and you have to vote.”

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‘Signs of life’ under Beirut rubble one month since explosion |NationalTribune.com

Beirut, Lebanon – A Chilean rescue team said it detected signs of life underneath the rubble of a building that collapsed in the massive explosion that tore through Beirut one month ago. A member of the TOPOS CHILE rescue team told Al Jazeera that, using a scanning machine, it discovered signs of a pulse and…

‘Signs of life’ under Beirut rubble one month since explosion |NationalTribune.com

Beirut, Lebanon – A Chilean rescue team said it detected signs of life underneath the rubble of a building that collapsed in the massive explosion that tore through Beirut one month ago.
A member of the TOPOS CHILE rescue team told Al Jazeera that, using a scanning machine, it discovered signs of a pulse and breathing near the ground floor of the collapsed building.
He said it most likely belonged to a child, adding that the team also found the presence of at least one body.
The August 4 explosion, that killed 191 people and injured more than 6,000, destroyed much of Lebanon’s capital.
The Chilean team had been visiting streets in the capital as part of a mission to secure buildings before the reconstruction phase when one of their search dogs ran towards a building and alerted them of human presence, Akram Nehme, member of the Achrafieh 2020 NGO that helped bring TOPOS CHILE to Beirut, told Al Jazeera.
Edward Bitar, a member of NGO Live Love Lebanon working with TOPOS CHILE in Lebanon, said they had detected 18 breath cycles per minute emanating from under the rubble using the sensor.
“We are trying to keep hopes low. If someone is found, it would be a miracle,” said Bitar.

TOPOS CHILE rescue team member told Al Jazeera that they had discovered signs of a pulse and breathing near the ground floor of the collapsed building using a sensitive scanning machine [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

TOPOS CHILE often heads to disaster zones, including to Japan’s Fukushima region in 2011 when a nuclear reactor exploded.
In 2010, it helped rescue a man in Haiti after he spent 27 days in the rubble caused by an earthquake.
Looking for life
Bitar said the owner of the building had attested to the fact that no one was inside.
But a number of people on the scene said they had alerted security forces of the smell of decomposition emanating from the building in the days after the blast, adding that security forces did not search the rubble.
Official search-and-rescue efforts have long-since been called off.
Thursday’s volunteer-led effort started in the morning and continued into the night. The team removed the rubble of the building – stone by stone – with help from Lebanese climbers, firefighters and civil defence. 

Rescue workers repeatedly silenced the large crowd to enable their sensor to probe for signs of life, leading an eerie silence to fall over the street.
For many Lebanese, Thursday’s volunteer-led efforts are just the latest example of state failure, both in the lead-up to the explosion – caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate haphazardly stored at the Beirut port for almost seven years – and in the explosion’s aftermath.
On Thursday, a month after the explosion, Lebanon’s army announced it found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate near the entrance to Beirut port.
The military said army experts were called in for an inspection and found the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port.
“Honestly this is why we all walk around believing something else is gonna blow us up. Their incompetence is stunning,” Lebanese activist Bissan Fakih said in a tweet, referring to the country’s political class.
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Sudan signs peace deal with rebel groups from Darfur |NationalTribune.com

Sudan’s government and the main rebel alliance agreed on a peace deal on Monday to end 17 years of conflict.  The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of rebel groups from the western region of Darfur and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, signed the peace agreement at a ceremony in Juba, capital…

Sudan signs peace deal with rebel groups from Darfur |NationalTribune.com

Sudan’s government and the main rebel alliance agreed on a peace deal on Monday to end 17 years of conflict. 
The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of rebel groups from the western region of Darfur and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, signed the peace agreement at a ceremony in Juba, capital of neighbouring South Sudan, which has hosted and helped mediate the long-running talks since late 2019.
The final agreement covers key issues around security, land ownership, transitional justice, power sharing, and the return of people who fled their homes because of war.
It also provides for the dismantling of rebel forces and the integration of their fighters into the national army.
The deal is a significant step in the transitional leadership’s goal of resolving multiple, deep-rooted civil conflicts.

Inside Story – Darfur conflict: A rebel leader’s death

About 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since rebels took up arms there in 2003, according to the United Nations.
Conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile erupted in 2011, following unresolved issues from bitter fighting there in Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war.
Two rebel factions refused to take part in the deal.
Marginalisation 
Leaders of the SRF raised their fists in celebration after signing the agreement.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several ministers flew to Juba on Sunday, the official news agency SUNA reported, where he met South Sudan President Salva Kiir.
Hamdok said finding a deal had taken longer than first hoped after an initial agreement in September 2019.
Both military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Hamdok were in attendance on Monday, while Kiir oversaw the ceremony.
The rebel forces took up arms against what they said was the economic and political marginalisation by the government in Khartoum.
They are largely drawn from non-Arab minority groups that long railed against Arab domination of successive governments in Khartoum, including that of toppled strongman, Omar al-Bashir.
The rebel groups that signed the agreement include the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), both of the western region of Darfur.
Rebel members of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) had provisionally initialled the agreement with the government late on Saturday.However, an SLM faction led by Abdelwahid Nour and a wing of the SPLM-N headed by Abdelaziz al-Hilu refused to take part.
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Brazil sees signs coronavirus outbreak slowing: Live updates |NationalTribune.com

India, the third worst-affected country in the world, has reported a record number of cases for coronavirus.  Brazil has expressed cautious optimism that the country’s coronavirus outbreak could be about to slow, with cases and deaths on a weekly basis falling from their late July peaks.  Kamala Harris accused US President Donald Trump of a…

Brazil sees signs coronavirus outbreak slowing: Live updates |NationalTribune.com

India, the third worst-affected country in the world, has reported a record number of cases for coronavirus. 
Brazil has expressed cautious optimism that the country’s coronavirus outbreak could be about to slow, with cases and deaths on a weekly basis falling from their late July peaks. 
Kamala Harris accused US President Donald Trump of a “failure of leadership” for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic as she accepted the nomination as vice president.
South Korea has reported a seventh day of triple digit cases with infections growing outside Seoul.
More than 22 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 around the world, and more than 14 million have recovered. More than 786,000 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Here are the latest updates:
Thursday, August 20
05:30 GMT – Germany reports highest number of daily cases since April
Germany recorded 1,707 cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest since April.
Official figures from the Robert Koch Institute show Germany with a total of 228,621 confirmed cases. An additional ten people died from the disease. 
04:15 GMT – India reports record daily jump in coronavirus cases
India has reported a record jump in coronavirus cases.
The Health Ministry confirmed 69,652 cases on Thursday, and also reported 997 more deaths.
India’s caseload is the third highest in the world after the US and Brazil.
03:50 GMT – Indonesia infection rate highest in Southeast Asia
Indonesia has officially reported 6,346 deaths from COVID-19, the highest toll in Southeast Asia, but Reuters reports that including people who died with acute COVID-19 symptoms but were not tested, the death toll is three times higher.
In a comprehensive report on the situation in the archipelago, the news agency says problems with testing as well as a lack of contact tracing has contributed to the rapid spread of the disease. 
“This virus has already spread all over Indonesia. What we are doing is basically herd immunity,” Prijo Sidipratomo, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the National Veterans Development University in Jakarta told Reuters. “So, we should just dig many, many graves.”
You can read the story here.
03:30 GMT – China reports fourth day with no local transmission of coronavirus
China has reported its fourth day in a row without any local transmission of coronavirus. The seven cases announced on Thursday were all imported from overseas, according to state media.

— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) August 20, 2020

03:00 GMT – Australia’s Victoria reports 240 new cases, 13 deaths
The Australian state of Victoria has reported 240 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours, up slightly on the 216 announced on Wednesday.
It also reported 13 deaths.
The state is the epicentre of a new wave of the outbreak in Australia and its capital city, Melbourne, has been locked down with a curfew imposed.

#COVID19VicData for 20 August 2020. 240 new cases of #coronavirus ( #COVID19) were detected in Victoria yesterday. Sadly we report 13 deaths from the virus. More information later today. pic.twitter.com/fiQChvG3Oh
— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) August 19, 2020

01:55 GMT  – South Korea reports seventh day of triple digit cases
South Korea has reported its seventh consecutive day of triple digit cases, with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming 288 cases – 276 locally acquired – in the past 24 hours.
Many of the cases have been traced to churches in Seoul, but an increasing number are appearing elsewhere in the country including the cities of Busan, Daejeon and Gwangju. 
The largest cluster is linked to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul.
01:40 GMT – China state media defends Wuhan pool party
China’s state media has come to the defence of a theme park in Wuhan which hosted a massive music festival and pool party over the weekend and raised concern about COVID-19 when pictures and videos were widely shared overseas.
The Global Times said the packed event was a sign of life returning to normal in a city that spent 76 days in lockdown and accused critics of “sour grapes”. The virus first appeared in Wuhan late last year.

Criticizing #Wuhan residents for having fun at water park music festival shows foreign sour grapes. People should reflect on why their countries’ epidemic control failed rather than smear Wuhan people and their hard-won victory over #coronavirus https://t.co/NJVBmxLiHk https://t.co/BRQBJvZtoe
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 19, 2020

VIDEO: 🇨🇳 Crowds packed out a water park over the weekend in the central Chinese city of #Wuhan, where the #coronavirus first emerged late last year, keen to party as the city edges back to normal life pic.twitter.com/SJFBmx5sU8
— AFP news agency (@AFP) August 17, 2020

01:15 GMT – Qantas posts $1.4b loss amid pandemic restructuring
Australian airline Qantas says it had a loss of 1.96 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) in the financial year ended June 30, as a result of restructuring and accounting charges linked to the pandemic.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said business conditions were the worst in the carrier’s 100 year history with international flights suspended and domestic routes hampered by border closures within Australia.
Joyce added that international flights were unlikely to resume until a vaccine was widely available, which might not be until late next year.
00:30 GMT – Harris says Trump ‘failure’ on coronavirus cost US lives
Kamala Harris will accuse US President Donald Trump of a “failure of leadership” during the coronavirus pandemic that has cost countless lives and jobs, when she accepts the Democratic Party’s nomination to be their candidate for vice president at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night (US time).
Harris will also attack Trump’s abilities and character, according to excerpts released to news agencies.
Trump’s “incompetence makes us feel afraid [and] the callousness makes us feel alone.”
The US has recorded the most cases and the most deaths from coronavirus of any country in the world. 
You can keep up-to-date with all the developments from the convention, which is being held online, here.

Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris will accuse incumbent President Donald Trump of a ‘failure of leadership’ when she formally accepts the Democratic Party nomination on Wednesday night (US time) [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

00:15 GMT – Trump touts convalescent plasma as coronavirus treatment
US President Donald Trump is touting the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment for coronavirus, saying he’s “heard fantastic things” about it.
Trump made his comments after the New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration had put on hold emergency approval for the treatment because of concerns the data on plasma use was too weak.
The president, who is facing reelection in November, claimed the decision could be political.
“You have a lot of people over there that don’t want to rush things because they want to do it after November 3,” Trump said, referring to the election. 
“I’ve heard numbers way over 50 percent success. And people are dying and we should have it approved if it’s good and I’m hearing it’s good. I hear from people at the FDA it’s good.”
The blood plasma of people who recover from COVID-19 contains antibodies that were created to fight off the infection. It has been used in some countries including China to help other patients battling the disease.
00:00 GMT – Cautious optimism in Brazil as study shows transmission rate below one
Brazil’s Health Ministry says there are signs the coronavirus outbreak in the country – the world’s second-worst – could be about to slow.
The number of confirmed cases dropped to 304,684 last week, compared with a peak of 319,653 in the week ending July 25. The number of deaths reported on a weekly basis has also fallen to 6,755 from a peak of 7,677 in the last week of July. 
A study by Imperial College London also shows Brazil’s transmission rate has fallen below one, according to local media. That means each person diagnosed with the disease will infect fewer than one person, which will slow the outbreak.
“In a way, it is a trend. We have to see how the disease behaves in the next two weeks to see if there is a significant drop,” Arnaldo Medeiros, Secretary of Health Surveillance, told reporters on Wednesday.
Daily figures continue to show a steady rise in cases and deaths with the country registering a total of 3,456,652 cases of the disease and 111,100 deaths.
—-
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.
Read all the updates from yesterday (August 19) here.

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