President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order intended to limit the protections afforded to social media platforms, though feedback has been varied.
The right-leaning elements of society has celebrated the EO, believing the White House is finally holding the politically biased Silicon Valley accountable, while those on the left side of the spectrum point to an opportunistic attack on opponents. This is a move which has been in the works since Twitter decided to flag two of the President’s tweets as a risk of fake news.
“Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias,” Trump said in the White House statement.
“As has been reported, Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician’s tweet. As recently as last week, Representative Adam Schiff was continuing to mislead his followers by peddling the long-disproved Russian Collusion Hoax, and Twitter did not flag those tweets. Unsurprisingly, its officer in charge of so-called ‘Site Integrity’ has flaunted his political bias in his own tweets.”
Of course what is worth noting is that Trump is no champion of free speech or a protector of the US Constitution, he is a hawk swooping in on enemies; would the President have signed the same order if presumptive Democratic nominee for President Joe Biden or the politically independent Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders were under the same scrutiny?
The EO attempts to do several things, including:
- Depict the social media companies as enemies of the US
- Remove immunity for the social media companies for content which is published on their platforms
- Designate the social media platforms as ‘publishers’
- Delegate responsibility of rulemaking to the FCC
- Restrict how political campaign funds can be spend on social media advertising
Focusing on a section of the Communications Decency Act known as Section 230, passed in 1996, which states:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
The intent of this legislation was to protect freedom of speech by ensuring the platform hosting user-created content could not be targeted by those being criticised. Without this protection, the platforms which give the general public a voice could have been the focal point of hundreds of lawsuits and may not have survived their embryonic development stages.
While the original intentions of this law may well have been good, it has been criticised by both sides of the political aisle.
Aside from President Trump’s, as well as numerous other Republicans, complaints over left-wing Californians controlling the technology industry, the Democrat Party has also found issue with Silicon Valley. Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff questioned the role of Section 230 last year as Deepfake videos emerged online, with the social media giants doing little in response.
Interestingly enough, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is clearly opposed to the EO, it also feels it is largely redundant and ineffectual.
“President Trump’s Executive Order targeting social media companies is an assault on free expression online and a transparent attempt to retaliate against Twitter for its decision to curate (well, really just to fact-check) his posts and deter everyone else from taking similar steps,” the EFF said in a blog post.
“The good news is that, assuming the final order looks like the draft we reviewed on Wednesday, it won’t survive judicial scrutiny.”
According to the EFF, the clauses mentioned in the EO are not directly linked, in that, should one be affected by the EO it would not mean the protections afforded to the platforms would be diluted. The EFF believes the White House has misunderstood how the courts have already interpreted the law, therefore the path which is being taken forward cannot be legislated for.
Another very interest element to consider is the social media platforms do not have First Amendment obligations as they are private spaces.
This week saw the District Court of Washington DC rule against an appeal from right-leaning Freedom Watch and right-wing YouTube celebrity Laura Loomer. The two parties were attempting to sue Twitter, Facebook and Google for violating antitrust laws and the First Amendment.
The case was filed against the trio of internet giants on the grounds of political bias. Freedom Watch claimed the trio were inhibiting the organisations growth potential, while Loomer was fighting against a 30-day ban for suggesting a Democrat politician was ‘anti-Jewish’.
In the ruling, the three-judge panel said that as private organisations, the social media platforms were not necessarily obliged to First Amendment in terms of facilitating free speech. Private organisations are perfectly entitled to their own opinions, or to curate content in a manner of their choosing.
This might be contrary to the promise of the social media companies to the masses, but it does mean they are shielded from at least some of the President’s attacks.
While some might debate whether this is a document which has the power the President intended, it is a clear statement of intent. The social media companies have firmly entrenched themselves on the Trump enemy list.
Telecoms.com Daily Poll: