How to Trump a space launch

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As hard as it seems to overwhelmed the exciting first private launch of humans from Earth and the successful docking with the International Space Station, there was actually a bigger story in tech in the last week.

Not to say that the first non-government space flight of two (American) astronauts wasn’t big news. It is worth just stopping to celebrate the moment. The Brad and Doug show, as it was humorously named for astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken who are themselves married to other astronauts, was a culmination of Elon Musk’s dream to fly people into space. Just before launch in the Crew Dragon capsule, for the 19-hour trip to reach the ISS, Hurley repeated Alan Shephard, the first American in space’s, famous 1961 quote: “Let’s light this candle”.

For any space geek, it was hard to trump Saturday’s launch and Sunday’s docking, including Musk’s very cool product placement by having the astronauts driven to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a Tesla Model X.

But the slow-burning feud between US President Donald Trump and Twitter exploded last week after the social network finally acted against the Tweeter-in-chief to hide one of his controversial posts. Amazingly, this was in the week he even more controversially withdrew funding from the World Health Organisation and revoked Hong Kong’s special status.

The tweet in question – about the Minnesota riots, in which he invoked a racist comment from the country’s abysmal segregated past that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” – contravened Twitter’s “community standards”. It is isn’t the first time Trump has contravened them, but it is the first time Twitter has done something about it. Not delete it, but hide it behind a notice, mind, saying it is “the public’s interest” that is should remain visible.

Trump has a long history of abusing his position to post often dangerously untrue and inflammatory statements. Or, as they are more correctly known, lies.

When Trump has been confronted with his spreading disinformation, like his predecessor Barack Obama said in his Nelson Mandela annual lecture two years ago without naming him, despite being “caught in a lie… they just double down and they lie some more.” Covfefe!

Sounds like President Jacob Zuma, whose Stalingrad defence has been unfrozen by a democratic summer and is finally headed to court himself this year.

Twitter said Trump broke its rules around “glorifying violence”. It was a day after the US President invoked an executive order which attacks Section 230 of the US’s Communications Decency Act. This is the clause which provides legal protection for tech companies that they aren’t responsible for that others publish on their platform. Not surprisingly, Facebook has remained quiet on the issue, afraid as always of a right-wing backlash.

Would it be that bad if that protection was removed from the social networks? Freedom of expression is a human right, as it should be, But Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube have hidden behind this shield for too long when it has been abused. Watch how quickly their efforts to get rid of racism, misogyny, hate speech, anti-Semitism and the rest of the craziness will suddenly proceed when they are liable.

Nothing else seems to have woken the social giants up to the abuse their platform spreads, and the real pain and hurt it causes, but fines and jail time sharpen the mind.

In the greatest irony, the biggest potential victim will be Trump himself. Personally, I’d rather be watching space launches. But, well, Covfefe.

This article first appeared in Financial Mail

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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