2 min read.Updated: 29 May 2020, 11:17 PM ISTBloomberg
US president targets social media firms’ liability shield after Twitter fact-checks him
I’m signing an order to uphold the free speech rights of the American people, the president said
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that seeks to limit liability protections social media firms enjoy after Twitter began selective fact checks of his posts on the platform. Under current law, companies like Twitter and Facebook are protected for users’ posts.
Trump told reporters that his order “calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield".
Trump’s move comes after Twitter earlier this week labelled two of his posts about mail-in voting “potentially misleading" and provided links to news coverage of his comments. He responded with outrage, accusing the social media company of censorship and election interference and threatening to possibly shut down the service.
“I’m signing an executive order to protect and uphold the free speech rights of the American people," Trump said. “Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they are a neutral platform, which they are not."
Trump said he expected the order or the regulations that follow to be legally challenged. If it were legal for him to shut down Twitter, he said, “I would do it."
The clash escalated on Friday when Twitter flagged another Trump tweet it said violated its rules about glorifying violence. Twitter obscured the tweet, about violence in Minnesota after the death of man in police custody, but said it may be in the public interest for the post to remain accessible.
Trump’s order said the protections against lawsuits should only apply when companies act in “good faith" to take down or limit the visibility of content. Any removal or restriction made in a manner that is “deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service" would not qualify as being in good faith, nor would a move without “adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard".
Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association trade group, called the order “unconstitutional and ill-considered". “America’s internet companies lead the world and it is incredible that our own political leaders would seek to censor them for political purposes," Shapiro said.
In a tweeted statement, Twitter called the executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law," adding, “attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms".
A Facebook spokesperson said that exposing social media companies to liability would penalize those that allow controversial speech and “encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone".
The Department of Commerce, in consultation with the attorney general, would be responsible for petitioning the Federal Communications Commission within 60 days to craft the new regulation.