President Donald Trump took action against social media companies on Thursday after repeated instances of bias against conservatives by signing an Executive Order that seeks to change a federal law that shields companies from being sued or held liable for content that is posted on their sites by users.
The 20-year-old law in question is Section 230, which is heralded by tech giants because of the legal protections that it provides. The order that Trump signed in the Oval Office urges the Federal Communications Commission to reexamine the extent to which Section 230 protects social media companies from liability.
“The order also seeks to channel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission, an agency that the White House has asked to probe whether tech companies’ content-moderation policies are in keeping with their pledges of neutrality,” The Washington Post reported. “The order additionally created a council in cooperation with state attorneys general to probe allegations of censorship based on political views. And it tasked federal agencies with reviewing their spending on social media advertising.”
While it’s not clear how the Executive Order will play out, the Post notes that it could “set the stage for federal regulators to write new rules and issue new punishments for companies deemed to exhibit political bias.”
During the signing of the Executive Order, Trump told reporters, “A small handful of powerful social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States, and we know what they are.”
“They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump continued. “There’s no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction, and that includes individual people controlling vast amounts of territory, and we can’t allow that to happen, especially when they go about doing what they’re doing, because they’re doing things incorrectly.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
“The choices that Twitter makes, what it chooses to suppress, edit, blacklist, shadow, ban are editorial decisions, pure and simple,” Trump added. “They’re editorial decisions In those moments Twitter ceases to be a neutral public platform and they become an editor with a viewpoint, and I think we can say that about others also … one egregious example is when they try to silence views that they disagree with by selectively applying a fact check, F-A-C-T fact check. What they choose to fact check, and what they choose to ignore, or even promote is nothing more than a political activism group or political activism, and it’s inappropriate.”
“Currently social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not, not an editor with a viewpoint,” Trump continued. “My executive 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. That’s a big deal, and they have a shield. They can do what they want. They have a shield. They’re not going to have that shield.”
“My executive order further instructs the federal trade commission, FTC to prohibit social media companies from engaging in any deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce,” Trump added. “Additionally, I’m directing the attorney general to work cooperatively with the states. He’s going to be working very much and very closely in cooperation with the states to enforce their own laws against such deceptive business practices. The states have brought in powerful authority to regulate in this arena, and they’ll be doing it also, and we encourage them to do it. If they see exactly as we’ve been seeing, what they’re doing is tantamount to monopoly.”
Trump said that if censorship of social media companies continues that it will severely undermine democracy in the United States and added that he has directed his administration to develop policies that prevent taxpayer dollars from going to social media companies that “repress free speech.”
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