President Trump signed a retaliatory executive order on Thursday after vowing to take “big action” against Twitter.
The order marks the latest development in the president’s feud with social media platforms and his unsubstantiated claims that services such as Twitter are biased against conservatives.
The order seeks to limit Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a foundational 1996 law that shields online platforms from being held liable for most content posted by users. Section 230 enables tech companies to set their own content moderation policies, and both Republicans and Democrats have criticized various aspects and outcomes of the law.
If you feel a surge of déjà vu, that’s because Trump has riled up his supporters and allies with similar claims in the past. In May 2019, the White House said it would solicit feedback from people who felt they’d been censored in some way by social media moderation policies. That summer, the administration circulated a proposal to regulate social media platforms—the Protecting Americans from Online Censorship order. Along similar lines, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump could form a panel to review social media censorship allegations.
The latest round of anti-bias talk was sparked by Twitter’s decision to stick a warning below the president’s false tweets about mail-in voting. Trump responded with threats—to “strongly regulate, or close them down”—and then Mark Zuckerberg weighed in on the matter, rather unhelpfully, by repeating a vague company line about how “Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth” on Fox News.
Earlier today, free speech advocates and civil rights groups, including the ACLU, issued fierce criticism of the order and questioned whether it will hold up to legal scrutiny.
“The president also has no authority to rewrite a congressional statute with an executive order imposing a flawed interpretation of Section 230,” said ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane in a statement. “Section 230 incentivizes platforms to host all sorts of content without fear of being held liable for it. It enables speech, not censorship.”