President Trump went thumb-to-thumb against social media giants in the United States this Thursday. In response to Twitter flagging two of the president’s tweets as being “potentially misleading,” Trump signed an executive order targeting all social media companies.
Trump said the move was to “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history.” Indeed, if the order survives the countless legal battles it’s sure to face, it would make it easier for federal regulators to argue that companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google are suppressing free speech any time they suspend users, delete posts, or question the validity of a person’s statement.
“A small handful of social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States,” Trump said. “They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter, virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences.”
He continued, “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.”
Under the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), social media platforms are not normally liable for their users’ defamatory posts. On the other hand, publishers like Parentology that create content can face liability.
Trump’s executive order hopes to reinterpret the 1996 law, but legal experts from both sides of the political spectrum have raised concerns. Per CNN, some argue it’s unconstitutional because it risks infringing on the First Amendment rights of private companies, and because it attempts to circumvent the two other branches of government.
“[Trump] is trying to steal for himself the power of the courts and Congress to rewrite decades of settled law,” Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the architect of the CDA legislation told CNN. “He decides what’s legal based on what’s in his interest.”
The president’s argument is that conservative voices are being blocked. Countless people have filed lawsuits in the past claiming they’ve been censored on social media, however the courts have repeatedly sided in favor of these companies. But that may not change any time soon.
As The Verge notes: “Anti-bias lawsuits — where people argue Twitter, Google, or Facebook are discriminating against them for political reasons and legally obligated to carry their speech — offer an illuminating look at why Trump’s boldest threats are probably bluster. Courts across the country have repeatedly defended social networks’ rights to ban at will. If Trump wanted to shut down sites that went against his wishes, he’d need to basically upend this precedent.”