News & Politics

BAM: Trump Signs Executive Order Calling for Social Media Companies to Lose Liability Protections if They Discriminate

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, May 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for social media companies to be stripped of their “liability shield” if they engage in censorship of political content. Trump’s order came two days after Twitter decided to issue an extremely biased “fact-check” on two of the president’s tweets, supporting vote-by-mail practices that are at the center of a lawsuit between the California Republican Party and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.). Trump has condemned the “fact-check” as an attack on free speech.

“Today, I am signing an Executive Order to protect and uphold the free speech and rights of the American people,” Trump declared. “Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they are not, not an editor with a viewpoint.”

“My executive order calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it so that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield,” the president explained. “My executive order further instructs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prohibit social media companies from engaging in any deceptive acts or practices regarding commerce.”

The president also directed Attorney General William Barr to work with the states “to enforce their own laws against such deceptive business practices.”

Echoing other critics of Big Tech, Trump said, “What they’re doing is tantamount to monopoly, you could say. It’s tantamount to taking over the airwaves.”

Without restraining Big Tech censorship, “we’re not going to have a democracy, we’re not going to have anything to do with a republic,” the president warned.

He also directed the administration to make sure that “taxpayer dollars are not going to any social media company that represses free speech.”

“As president, I will not allow the American people to be bullied by these giant corporations,” Trump added. He teased further legislation on the issue. “I’ve been called by Democrats that want to do this.”

Indeed, in order to enact a new policy that has any real teeth, the president would likely have to work with Congress to amend Section 230. While the administration can issue new regulations to build on the enforcement of laws, the president cannot unilaterally alter the law. However, it is arguable that actions like Twitter’s “fact-check” already violate the stipulations of Section 230, as the president claimed.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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