Trump Is Doing All of This for Zuckerberg

As the United States enters a pandemic summer, with more than 100,000 Americans already dead, and as tear gas engulfed Minneapolis last night, following protests after yet another killing of a black man by a police officer, the president tweeted that the “shooting starts” when the “looting starts.” The tweet echoed a historic line uttered by a police chief in Miami in 1967 during the civil-rights unrest that was also widely condemned at the time. Twitter hid that tweet behind a message saying that it was “glorifying violence”—a violation of the site’s terms of service—though users could still choose to view it by clicking through. All of this was an escalation of the seeming conflict between the president and Twitter: Just two days ago, the social-media company added a fact-check link to one of Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time. The president responded by issuing an executive order that is getting a lot of attention, but not the right kind.
The president’s order targets Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which confers immunity to internet companies for content they host but is generated by their users—something without which they could not operate as they now do. We’ve already seen a flood of lengthy commentaries and expert analyses of the legislative basis of the order. Legal experts have derided it as “ unlawful and unenforceable .” A Vice News headline worried that it could “ ruin the internet .” And a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU pointed out that “ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230”—because it gives him unfettered access to the public through social media. A New York Times analysis similarly said that the order could “ harm one person in particular” : the president.  
In reality, Trump’s salvo on social-media companies has primarily an audience of one: Mark Zuckerberg. And it is already working. After the executive order was issued, Facebook’s CEO quickly gave an interview to Fox News in which he said, “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” He added, “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
[ Read: How Facebook works for Trump ]
It’s important to pay attention to what the president is doing, but not because the legal details of this order matter at all. Trump is unlikely to repeal Section 230 or take any real action to curb the power of the major social-media companies. Instead, he wants to keep things just the way they are and make sure that the red-carpet treatment he has received so far, especially at Facebook, continues without impediment. He definitely does not want substantial changes going into the 2020 election. The secondary aim is to rile up his base against yet another alleged enemy: this time Silicon Valley, because there needs to be an endless list of targets in...