President Donald Trump is expected to announce an executive order targeting social media companies on Thursday, amid an ongoing feud with Twitter over the site’s decision to label some of his tweets as “potentially misleading.” Trump’s order could allow federal regulators to take punitive measures against Facebook, Google, and Twitter over how the social networks moderate content on their platforms.
The move comes just two days after Twitter started fact-checking misleading claims made by the president, including his continued false statements that mail-in-ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud, which have been disproven. In response, Trump accused the social media platform of censorship ahead of the 2020 election, threatening, “If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen!” On Thursday he added, “This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!”
Trump’s executive order, titled "Preventing Online Censorship" has been in the works since last year and seeks to undo legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, ABC News reports. The existing legislation provides immunity to tech giants that moderate their own platforms, so they cannot be held responsible for content they allow online or for their moderation decisions. Trump’s order seeks to change that.
“It is the policy of the United States to foster clear, nondiscriminatory ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet." the draft order states. "It is the policy of the United States that the scope of that immunity should be clarified." The order also accuses social media platforms of "invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise punish Americans' speech here at home.” It further proposes developing an online tool for reporting tech bias directly to the Federal Trade Commission.
And, this action could have massive ramifications that test the limits of the White House's ability to exercise power. Legal experts are taken aback by the draft order, and say it could have negative consequences for free speech online. “This is simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president,” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association told The Washington Post.
The Internet Association's interim president Jon Berroya said in a statement that the order “stands to undermine a variety of government efforts to protect public safety and spread critical information online through social media and threatens the vibrancy of a core segment of our economy.” The organization represents major tech companies on matters of public policy.
Despite the president’s threats to take action against social media giants, this order will likely end up in the hands of the courts, as many of Trump's far-reaching executive orders often do.