Earlier today, President Trump signed an executive order that could open the door for federal regulators to punish Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media and tech companies for the way they “police” content online.
The President has portrayed the order as an attempt to stamp out political bias on the part of the country’s largest social media platforms. This comes days after Twitter steered viewers of some of the president’s tweets to news articles that fact-checked his claims, a move that clearly annoyed President Trump, who said that this was a form of censorship.
“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers,” the President said before signing the executive order.
“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,” the President said, according to Fox News. Fox reports that the President called Twitter’s fact-check “egregious,” and held up a photo of Twitter executive Yoel Roth (who he called out in the above tweet), who heads up the site’s fact-checking and rules-making operation. Roth, apparently, has mocked Trump supporters, and has called GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a “bag of farts.” . Fox notes that in a statement, Twitter did not dispute Fox News’ reporting, but called it “unfortunate.”
“They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences. There is no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
A number of legal experts doubted the legality of the order and said that it could be a violation of free speech.
“This is simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president,” said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a Washington trade group that represents Facebook, Google and other major tech companies, according to The Washington Post.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe explains that the President is on shaky legal ground: “The First Amendment limits only the Government, not private entities like Twitter… Twitter’s tagging of Trump’s claims about write-in voting is itself absolutely protected under the First Amendment as an expression of opinion.”
And as Vox points out, “It’s hard to argue that Twitter, which is a much smaller company than Facebook or Google, has monopolistic power on social media.” Vox quoted a former Twitter exec Nu Wexler, who said, “Note that Trump has much less leverage over Twitter than other companies. Twitter don’t sell political ads,” as Facebook and Google do. “They’re not big enough for an antitrust threat.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement, “Social media can be frustrating. But an Executive Order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the President’s speech police is not the answer. It’s time for those in Washington to speak up for the First Amendment. History won’t be kind to silence.”