Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting Social Media Companies

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On May 28, President Trump signed an executive order targeting social media companies. The executive order came two days after Twitter placed fact-checks on two of Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots.

Trump’s executive order seeks to reinterpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 provides social media platforms and other websites with immunity from legal liability for publishing others’ speech. This section allows websites to offer platforms for controversial speech without the threat of being sued. The section also limits liability for websites that engage in “‘Good Samaritan’ blocking” of harmful content.

The executive order reads in part, “Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias.” It continues, “As a Nation, we must foster and protect diverse viewpoints in today's digital communications environment where all Americans can and should have a voice.”

Twitter’s fact-check banner placed on Trump’s tweets read “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” The fact-check links to a page in which Twitter further explains why it labeled Trump’s tweets, saying:

“Trump claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election.’ However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.

Trump falsely claimed that California will send mail-in ballots to ‘anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there.’ In fact, only registered voters will receive ballots.

Five states already vote entirely by mail and all states offer some form of mail-in absentee voting, according to NBC News.”

The executive order argues that Section 230 only protects websites from liability when they act in “good faith” to restrict access to content that is “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable.” According to Trump, social media companies are not acting in good faith when they remove or label content.

Opponents argue that the executive order risks limiting the First Amendment rights of private companies.

Social media platforms and free speech groups have pushed back against the executive order.

“By exposing companies to potential liability for everything that billions of people around the world say, this would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said of the executive order.

Quinn McKew, executive director of ARTICLE 19, said, “For the President to claim that he is doing this in the name of free speech is disingenuous at best. Fact checking is not censorship, it is more speech. This is a clear attempt to push companies into moderating content in line with the President’s interpretation of free speech, ahead of a divisive presidential election where social media will be a key campaigning battleground.”

Later in the week, Twitter placed a public interest notice on one of Trump’s tweets about the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. The notice said the tweet violated Twitter’s rules about glorifying violence. Soon after, the official White House twitter posted an identical tweet that was also subsequently labeled by Twitter.

On Tuesday, June 2, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s executive order, arguing that the executive order violates the First Amendment “by curtailing and chilling the constitutionally protected speech of online platforms and individuals.”