Trump executive order targets social media’s ‘selective censorship’

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President Trump signs the executive order.
Pres. Trump signs an executive order that seeks to overturn protections for Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Photo: White House

Days after Twitter labeled a Tweet by President Trump as false, Trump on Thursday signed an executive order that seeks to overturn liability protections for social media services.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the president’s most powerful political opponent, called the move “a desperate distraction” on the day U.S. deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic reached 100,000.

Trump vs. Section 230

Trump’s executive order says “Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse.”

The order says that social media companies have abused section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This grants these companies protection from some legal liability because they are platforms not publishers. But it requires them to act in good faith. “It is the policy of the United States to ensure that, to the maximum extent permissible under the law, this provision is not distorted to provide liability protection for online platforms that — far from acting in ‘good faith’ to remove objectionable content — instead engage in deceptive or pretextual actions (often contrary to their stated terms of service) to stifle viewpoints with which they disagree.”

The difficulty Trump runs into is that section 230 is federal law, and the president can’t overturn it with an executive order.

His order is therefore mostly symbolic. It asks the Commerce Department to urge the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the scope of section 230. And it asks the Federal Trade Commission to check into accusations brought by the White House of political bias by social media companies.

Trump executive order draws criticism

Pelosi defended Twitter’s move to label the information in Trump’s tweet as false. “The proliferation of disinformation is extremely dangerous, particularly as our nation faces the deadliest pandemic in history,” said the Speaker, according to CNBC. “Clearly and sadly, the President’s Executive Order is a desperate distraction from his failure to provide a national testing strategy to defeat COVID-19.”

American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane called the order “a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president,” according to Cnet.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey isn’t backing down. In a tweet, he said “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.” He went on to write “This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth.’ Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves”