President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order targeting Twitter and other social media giants, saying he is taking action to “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history.”
Calling it a “big deal,” Trump said the order allows for new regulations so that social media companies “that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield,” but experts say he probably can’t do much with Congress and any move will be met with legal challenges.
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said the president signed the executive order right after reporters left the Oval Office.
As expected, the order calls for new regulations under Section 320 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides broad immunity from lawsuits to websites based on the content its users post, and thus curbs some of those liability protection for companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google.
“They have had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump claimed. “We are fed up with it.”
He said what social media giants choose to fact check or ignore are “editorial decisions” and represent “political activism.”
“In those moments, Twitter ceases to be a neutral public platform and they become an editor with a viewpoint, and I think we can say that about others also,” Trump said, referring to fact-check labels added to two of Trump’s tweets on mail-in ballots, as some states make measures for voting amid the pandemic. “And it’s inappropriate.”
Asked if he has considered deleting his own Twitter account, he said he would “in a heartbeat” if news wasn’t fake and then touted his 186 million followers across all social media platforms.
Attorney General Bill Barr, appearing in the Oval Office with Trump, said the order would not repeal Section 320, but would restore “the right balance.”
But some experts say it is likely up to Congress, not Trump and the executive branch, to reinterpret the part of the law in question and that it may also raise significant First Amendment questions and face legal challenges.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier Thursday called the executive order a “distraction” from the coronavirus pandemic.
President Trump tweeted this morning it will be “a big day for social media and fairness.”
The social media executive order makes it easier for companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google to be held liable for the content posted on their platforms, according to a draft obtained by ABC News.
The particular order — titled “Preventing Online Censorship” — has been in this works since 2019 and has seen multiple revisions along the way. The president’s recent threats prompted the draft to be revived internally.
The order asks that the scope of Section 230 in a law known as the Communications Decency Act, which provides broad immunity to websites that curate and moderate their own platforms, be clarified by curbing some liability protections.
Republicans have also introduced legislation on Capitol Hill to strip these protections. Attorney General Bill Barr has raised concerns over Section 230 as well, saying it has the potential to enable online child exploitation.
However, experts warn it could have a major impact on free speech on social media and predict this could land in the courts.
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