Can a President mandate Upvotes?

  • This image is from when Barack Obama (the then serving president) thanked Reddit for helping protect the open internet.

    Scan of a handwritten note signed by Barack Obama

    Thanks Redditors! Wish I could upvote every one of you for helping keep the internet open and free!

    My question, if this was taken at face-value, and the President really wanted to force a private company to help him apply a blanket Upvote to everybody on Reddit, why could/can't he, and what would he have to do to accomplish this?

    I'm pretty sure this isn't allowed by Reddit's policies given it's a form of "vote cheating" (albeit the rules are oddly shaky for a blanket Upvote).

    I know realistically nothing about the extent of power a President has over the functions of a private company, so I was hoping someone could break down the various methods the President could go about giving an Upvote to every user on Reddit.

    I would prefer answers that avoided simply asking nicely (given not every President has had the same rapport with the company behind Reddit so lets assume they don't want this to happen) and instead focused on the steps and barriers the President would face before being provided with a hopefully enormous glorious green button. Or, if such an mandate is actually legally impossible given the checks and balances I've heard about.

    Not sure how this is relevant? The former President was clearly expressing his gratitude for their support, not actually stating he wished to grant an upvote to everyone.

    While this particular example is of course ridiculous, it is IMO still an interesting thought experiment to evaluate what the president can and can not do.

    Exactly @Philipp, it's purely about the steps involved in an interaction between public and private sectors, but wrapped in a nice example.

    @Marisa as noted in other comments, the case itself is simply a way to pose a larger question. I'll try edit it to suggest more of the "what-if" vibe I was going for.

    @Tom No problem! It just felt more like a certainty in the first version. New version is much clearer.

    This is a hypothetical based on a misinterpretation. I can't tell if it's too narrow or too broad. Either way, not really a reality-based question.

    @blip Would you prefer if I asked instead, "What actions can a President take to force a private-company to perform an involuntary action?"

    @Tom that would probably better...the example is somewhat overpowering the actual question. I don't know if that would be any more answerable, but I think it would clarify the intent better.

    @Tom, Re "*...force... involuntary...*": it's unclear whether it would be involuntary, given the publicity value for *Reddit*. I'd suppose it might be more like a Royal Warrant, such as those found on boxes of British tea.

    I'm clearly missing something--the only barrier preventing the President from upvoting a large number of posts is his personal time, right? So what action, exactly, would he be requesting Reddit to take on his behalf in this hypothetical? It sounds like he would basically need someone to write a bot to upvote all posts in a particular thread using the POTUS Reddit account, and ask Reddit not to consider it a TOS violation but merely a time-saving measure on his part. Is that what you're describing by "mandate upvotes"?

    Are you asking if the president could make reddit go and bulk-upvote each user's account, so he or his hired lackeys wouldn't have to do it manually? I'm not entirely clear what the "this" in "really wanted to force a private company to do something like this" is.

    Read this again and imagine this was written by a private citizen. It's a derivation of a common form of expression of no political nature.

    I see no rational basis for your interpretation of the quote. Obama isn't talking about forcing anybody to do anything. He's saying he wished he had time to personally click the upvote button.

    It seems in my executive powers to blanked upvote all in this page.

    Look what this Presidency is doing to everyone's thought process.

  • James K

    James K Correct answer

    4 years ago

    A president has the power, under the general terms of Article 2, to instruct the various federal agencies how to act, and how to spend the money that they already have. Any such order is then subject to scrutiny by Congress and the SCOTUS.

    The ability of the President to instruct a private company is limited. In 1952, with a steel strike threatened, President Truman signed an order renationalising the steel mills. This was overturned by the Supreme Court (Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer), who ruled that even though the President had legitimate national security concerns (steel was essential for the Korean war effort), he lacked the authority to do so. The court decided that there are limits to what the constitution calls "executive power", and that seizing property is beyond that limit.

    In this case of upvoting all redditors, the president is not attempting to take complete control of a private company, but he is attempting to exert authority over a company to act in a way other than what they see as their best business practice. And the indication of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer is that the President lacks this power.

    However, the president would be free to create a Department of Reddit Upvoting and get federal employees to log onto Reddit and start upvoting everyone. That would be the President directing the executive how to act. Congress would be able to review this and prevent it by refusing to fund such a department, or simply overruling the order.

    The President also has various tools that he could use to put pressure on a private company. He can make business difficult for a company while "asking nicely": "Give a upvote to everyone and I won't send the IRS round to audit your books every Monday" but probably less crude. The president has a lot of soft power so a bit of carrot and stick might well be the best strategy.

    Would the actions of the Department of Reddit Upvoting be against the Reddit terms of use?

    @stannius yes, but good luck to them if they want to enforce it.

    @stannius Yes, and by the Reddit terms of use, the Reddit admins would be perfectly within their legal rights to delete the accounts. Of course, that goes back to the final paragraph - the President could make life/business very difficult for the admins if they were to do so.

    "However, the president would be free to create a Department of Reddit Upvoting and get federal employees to log onto Reddit and start upvoting everyone." Wouldn't creating a new department normally require an act of Congress? The President could, however, potentially direct an existing department or some White House staffers to do this.

    "Give a upvote to everyone and I won't send the IRS round to audit your books every Monday" - I'm pretty sure that's illegal. People have gotten into trouble for that sort of thing.

    @reirab I think you're right, but the idea of a "Dept of Reddit Upvoting" is amusing for me. Its probably illegal for a president to do this, its certainly unethical, but the general idea is that the president can exert soft power in various ways. The president can't force a company do a anything, except comply with the law. The president can influence and manipulate.

    Would he really need to create a new department? Couldn't he just direct all federal employees to open Reddit accounts and start upvoting?

    He does have access to a military and various intelligence agencies. He could probably direct the NSA to hack Reddit and give out the upvotes.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM