President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday to protect the free speech of users on social media platforms, The Hill reported.
The president’s order, which had reportedly been in the works since 2019, followed swiftly after Twitter angered Trump by “fact-checking” some of his tweets, sparking threats from Trump to crack down on censorship by Big Tech monopolies.
Trump signs the order
According to The Hill, Trump’s order declares that websites like Facebook and Twitter have become so essential to the way people communicate that they are the “21st century equivalent of the public square.” Consequently, the order looks to crack down on censorship by Big Tech monopolies by stripping legal immunity from platforms that suppress political viewpoints.
“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see,” the order reads. “In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to handpick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.”
Specifically, the order targets Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a controversial law created in the early days of the internet that gives service providers broad discretion to moderate content on their platforms without incurring liability. The order calls on the Commerce Department “to file a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clarify the scope of Section 230,” The Hill reports, arguing that platforms that engage in “deceptive or pretextual actions” should be treated like publishers making editorial decisions.
Conservatives have long called for action to be taken against biased censorship from platforms like Twitter, and liberals have also complained that social media companies have not done enough to battle “misinformation” and “hate speech.”
It seems possible that, if platforms like Twitter do more to censor Trump of their own volition, Democrats will back off regulatory threats — and indeed, some Democrats criticized Trump’s executive order as an attempt to stifle, not protect free speech, echoing Big Tech companies like Twitter, which called the move “a reactionary and politicized approach to such a landmark law,” The Hill noted.
Twitter censors Trump
On Friday, Trump took another jab at the statute, tweeting, “REVOKE 230!” in a reflection of how dramatically his feud with Twitter had blown up in just days after the platform flagged some of his tweets as misinformation.
Just hours earlier, Twitter censored one of Trump’s tweets about the Minneapolis riots sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, The Hill reported separately. The company cloaked and limited the functionality of Trump’s tweet — which is still accessible, if you click a button — in which the president denounced the rioting with the warning, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” The Hill noted.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Twitter said that they took the action to prevent people from being inspired by Trump’s words to commit violence. (Yes, really.)
At the White House Thursday, Trump said he would gladly shut Twitter down if he had the authority and would delete his account “in a heartbeat,” if not for the mainstream media’s lies, the Journal reported separately.
While the executive order does not repeal Section 230 outright, according to Fox News, Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr suggested that legislation on the statute could be coming, and Trump floated that they could “remove or totally change” it, The Hill noted. The EO also calls on federal agencies to review their spending on advertising with social media, and it would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice to respond to complaints of censorship.