Home / News / World /  Biden revokes Trump’s order to scrap social media platforms' legal protection

US President Joe Biden, on Friday, revoked an executive order signed by his predecessor to remove intermediary protection rights from social media platforms. Former President Trump had signed an Executive Order in May last year, which sought to tone down the liability protection for companies like Facebook, Twitter and others, for what users post on their platforms. These intermediary protections come under Section 230 of the United States’ Communications Decency Act, and were among a line of Trump Executive Orders that Biden revoked yesterday.

The Trump order was signed last year, after micro-blogging platform Twitter started labelling the former President’s posts on its platform. Both Facebook and Twitter have since banned Trump from the platform. In fact, Facebook’s Oversight Board, which was looking into the company’s ruling for the past three months, had upheld the ban earlier this month. The Board, however, opposed an ‘indefinite ban’ on Trump, asking Facebook to review its policies within six months and come back with an appropriate response.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is similar to Section 79 of India’s IT Act. Both of them prevent social media companies from being sued for what users post on their platforms, and are laws that have been opposed by many governments lately, including India. These laws essentially allow platforms like WhatsApp to provide end-to-end encryption for messaging, and tell governments and law enforcement that they can’t read users’ messages.

“When an interactive computer service provider removes or restricts access to content and its actions do not meet the criteria of subparagraph ( c)(2)(A), it is engaged in editorial conduct. It is the policy of the United States that such a provider should properly lose the limited liability shield of subparagraph ( c)(2)(A) and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider," Trump’s order said last year.

Laws like Section 230 in the US and Section 79 in India have been questioned by law enforcements and governments in recent times. Trump argued last year that if social media companies were banning or taking down content from their platforms, then they should be held liable for those actions.

Governments and law enforcement also see these laws as a roadblock for surveillance programs. In its new intermediary rules, announced in February this year, the Indian government also asked platforms to find ways to trace tweets and messages back to the first originator within the country. This move was opposed by many platforms and privacy experts, saying it will force companies like WhatsApp and others to build backdoors into their encryption protocols, which breaks the purpose of encryption altogether.

Experts have also said that scrapping liability protections for social media and messaging platforms could lead to more censorship. If social media firms are liable for the content users post, they will likely have to crack down on such content proactively, which in turn will curb what users can say on these platforms.

Prasid Banerjee
An engineering dropout, Prasid Banerjee has reported on technology in India for various publications. He reports on technology through text and audio, focusing on its core aspects, like consumer impact, policy and the future.
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