On Thursday President Trump signed an executive order seeking to limit liability protections of social media companies, according to Fox News. Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship directly challenges the immunity granted by Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act to big tech platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram, and others. If implemented, websites that allow users to post content will be treated as a publisher, which, in turn, will make them vulnerable for libel or defamation suits. “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 any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield,” said Trump.
The move comes just days after Twitter decided to add fact-checking notes to Trump’s tweets about mail-in voting, essentially labeling these messages unsubstantiated. The President blasted social media censorship in a series of tweets, threatening to regulate the platform or close it down in response. “A small handful of powerful social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States,” said Trump during the press conference on Thursday. “They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences.” The President also hinted on the development of policies and procedures preventing social media companies engaged in repression of free speech from receiving federal funding.
This executive order immediately came under criticism. Trump was accused of being an authoritarian who wants to silence his critics and his actions were painted illegal in an op-ed by The L.A. Times. “When Twitter commented on the President’s tweets, it engaged in conduct that the Constitution protects,” said Len Niehoff, a professor from the University of Michigan Law School. He argued that Trump’s actions actually violate the freedom of speech rights of the companies and thus have little legal rights. “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. 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. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions,” CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey stated on Wednesday, supporting the actions of the company.
The head of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg during the interview with Fox News said that his policies are different from Twitter’s and the platform will not fact-check posts made President Trump other politicians. He expressed this position earlier this year and doesn’t plan to change the views on this matter. “I believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. I think in general, private companies shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.” However, Zuckerberg also lamented about “reactionary and politicized moves” because they will restrict more speech online.