Donald Trump order targets social networks

Administration to look into ways of holding social media platforms liable for the content they carry.

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at Twitter for fact-checking two of his tweets on mail-in ballots, he signed an executive order (EO) asking his administration to look into ways of holding platforms liable for more of the content they carry.

Specifically, the EO asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to re-examine how protections granted under a particular statute — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996) — ought to apply.

Section 230, on the back of which several American tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have grown, allows social media sites to carry third party content without being liable for all of it. There are some exceptions around federal criminal law, sex trafficking and intellectual property. It, therefore, draws a distinction between platforms on the one hand and publishers or speakers on the other.


Significantly, the statute says a platform shall not be liable for actions taken in “good faith” to restrict material that is, “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected”.

Thursday’s order also directs federal government agencies to review the amount of advertising dollars spent on online platforms. It asks the FCC to lake action on “deceptive acts” affecting commerce, such as when sites “restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities' public representations about those practices”.

Twitter called Mr. Trump’s approach “politicised”.

‘Reactionary order’

“This EO is a reactionary and politicised approach to a landmark law. #Section230 protects American innovation and freedom of expression, and it’s underpinned by democratic values. Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms,” a statement from Twitter said.


Mr. Trump and other Republicans have said U.S. tech companies have a liberal bias and social media sites tend to censor conservative views. There is support on the other side of the aisle for scaling back or revoking current protections, but for different reasons — such as unmoderated content encouraging misinformation and promoting violence. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told the New York Times earlier this year Section 230 should be revoked because internet companies, such as Facebook, were not merely tech companies, but propagating falsehoods. Asked by a reporter if he would consider deleting his Twitter account, Mr. Trump said on Thursday that he used social media to refute fake news”. “ I would do that [ delete his Twitter account] in a heartbeat if I had fair — if we had a fair press in this country, I would do that in a heartbeat.”

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 10:03:02 AM |

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