In a first of such moves by a politician, the US president Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order that decrees a number of changes in how major social media platforms – mainly Twitter, Facebook and Youtube police and restrict certain content posted on their platforms.
The official order that was shared by Trump himself on Twitter seeks to hold tech companies responsible for only being publishers, and limit their role in censoring content – especially of a political nature that goes against their own political leanings.
“Today, I am signing an Executive Order to protect and uphold the free speech and rights of the American people.” pic.twitter.com/agTIJ2KR6C
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 28, 2020
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.” the Order begins.
To put things in perspective, Trump has often spoken out against the Silicon Valley giants as being biased towards a leftist propaganda and often accused them of censoring conservative voices— charges these companies deny but Conservative internet users press against the them. Trump’s executive order seeks to redefine the scope of section 230 of US’ constitution – considered the bedrock of the internet – the law that protects tech companies from being sued over what users post.
The Order seeks to strip the tech companies of the immunity they enjoy in being sued for policing or manipulating the content they allow on their platforms. The Order also calls into questioning the ad spending by government agencies on platforms “that violate free speech principles. The order says complaints submitted to a White House bias-reporting form will be forwarded to the FTC and the Justice Department. And it calls for a working group to create model state legislation on “unfair or deceptive” practices.
Trump’s executive order comes quick on the heels of when Twitter added fact-checking links to two of Trump’s recent tweets about fraudulent voting, implying they were lies. Twitter later added hundreds of fact-check notes to other non-Trump tweets.
The social media companies on their part have slammed the move calling it unconstitutional.
In a tweet Thursday evening, Twitter said that the executive order was “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law. #Section230 protects American innovation and freedom of expression, and it’s underpinned by democratic values. Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.”
Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois said in a statement that the company believes in protecting freedom of expression along with protecting users from harmful content.
“Those rules apply to everybody,” she said. “Repealing or limiting Section 230 will have the opposite effect. It will restrict more speech online, not less.“
Google spokeswoman Riva Sciuto said in a statement that undermining Section 230 could hurt the economy and the United States’ role in Internet freedom. “We have clear content policies and we enforce them without regard to political viewpoint,” she said. “Our platforms have empowered a wide range of people and organizations from across the political spectrum, giving them a voice and new ways to reach their audiences.” the statement said.
If it comes into effect Trump’s Order could reshape how the internet’s social giants treat the tweets, memes, and screeds we post on our feeds, and could potentially set off a chain reaction in which similar moves could be attempted by governments elsewhere.