Today, U.S. President Trump, in retaliation for Twitter reasonably appending a fact-checking link to his misleading tweet on mail-in ballots, signed an executive order designed to limit the protections afforded to platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Section 230 has contributed substantially to the ability of social media companies to grow and prosper. Thanks to this statute, platforms do not have to worry about being held as speakers or publishers of user-generated content, nor do they need to be concerned with being held liable for good-faith efforts to remove objectionable material from their own platforms — even if that material is legal or constitutionally protected. Without such protections, platforms would either stop moderating entirely or be subject to never-ending litigation for their moderation.
“This executive order is mostly political posturing and legal nonsense,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “Of course, it is not designed to be legally sound; it is designed to bully companies like Twitter to cease fact-checking efforts, at least until the November election is over. On the contrary, Twitter and all social media platforms have the responsibility to hold politicians to transparent standards and curtail harmful misinformation that would, for instance, suppress the vote or mislead people into not taking the proper precautions to combat COVID-19.”
“President Trump is desperate to silence his critics, as this executive order shows,” said Jennifer Brody, Legislative Manager at Access Now. “However, the American people deserve to know when their elected officials are acting disingenuously, especially when they make statements that threaten civil rights protections. U.S. democracy is at risk of further decay when the executive branch believes it’s immune to correction.”
While the final executive order has not been released, the draft executive order purports to limit Section 230’s protections. For instance, it asks the Federal Communications Commission to define what constitutes “good faith” removal or restriction of content, even though the agency lacks such authority. It aims to rewrite the statute to prevent removal of legal or constitutionally protected speech, which is contrary to Section 230’s plain language. Further, it directs Attorney General Barr to create a working group of state Attorneys General to push them to more aggressively enforce state laws on unfair and deceptive practices against social media platforms.