President Donald Trump was openly furious about Twitter’s fact check of his false tweets about mail-in ballots and promised revenge. Now, according to the New York Times, that revenge will take the form of a new executive order. The order, which is still in the draft phase, would “make it easier for federal regulators to argue that companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter are suppressing free speech when they move to suspend users or delete posts, among other examples.”
This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
You can read a leaked draft of the order here.
It involves Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides legal protections for online companies for what users post on their platforms. For the most part, companies like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have broad immunity from liability for the messages shared on their sites. But the new order takes aim at what it calls “selective censoring” and would enhance the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to target what it considers “bias.”
According to the Times, Section 230 has been a big part of social media companies’ success, allowing them the freedom to be as strict or hands-off as they like when it comes to creating rules and moderating content on their sites. Most big social media companies prefer an uninvolved approach, though Twitter has become more deliberate following the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Cries for Trump to face accountability for spreading a debunked conspiracy theory about Joe Scarborough’s former aid forced the company to action, and it hit the President with his first fact check on Tuesday.
The legal community is skeptical of the executive order’s odds of holding up in court, saying that it runs afoul of the First Amendment. “It’s unclear what to make of this because to a certain extent, you can’t just issue an executive order and overturn on a whim 25 years of judicial precedent about how a law is interpreted,” Kate Klonick, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told the Times. She said the order was “likely not going to be upheld by a court.”
Over at the libertarian hub Reason, senior editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown describes the order as an”Orwellian document, defining federal government regulation of Americans’ speech as ‘free speech’ and private questioning of government authority as ‘censorship.’ In Trump’s formulation, private companies can censor the most powerful person in the country but not the other way around.”