President Trump Signs Executive Order Aiming to Prevent Online Censorship

Published by Matt Fishman on

President Trump has signed an Executive Order to prevent online platforms from “engaging in selective censorship” which the President says is “harming our national discourse”.

Such “selective censorship” is referenced, by President Trump in the Order, as including Twitter’s choosing to place a warning label “on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias”. Two days prior, to enforce their “civic integrity policy”, Twitter added a warning label to two of the President’s Tweets about California’s vote-by-mail plans. Actions like this, according to the President, highlight social media companies’, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, “unprecedented power to… censor, delete, or disappear information”. President Trump claims this power stems from abuses of section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230(c) establishes the right of social media companies and other online platforms to, “in good faith”, remove or restrict material that is “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable”. Furthermore, social media companies whom perform these removals and restrictions are not to be treated as the “publisher or speaker of any information provided by another”, and cannot be “held liable” for such removals and restrictions.

The Executive Order points out how “Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to… use their power to censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike”. Thus, to ensure that this law is “not distorted to provide liability protection for online platforms that… stifle viewpoints with which they disagree”, the Federal Communications Commission is directed to clarify the “limited” circumstances under which online platforms that restrict access to content are “able to claim protection” under this section.

The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are then to review actions of Twitter, Facebook, and other companies to determine whether or not these online platforms should be treated as a “publisher or speaker” for making third-party content available and if they should “take responsibility” for their editorial decisions.