President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order allowing the government to regulate social media platforms after years of complaints that the companies are biased against conservatives.
“Today I’m signing an executive order to protect and uphold the free speech rights of the American people,” Trump said. “Social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not.”
Two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) have both already announced that they are working on legislation to remove Twitter’s liability protections.
The president was joined in the Oval Office by Attorney General William Barr, who said that the new regulations should receive bipartisan support because Section 230 has been “stretched well beyond its original intentions and people feel that on both sides of the aisle.”
Trump’s order directs an agency within the Commerce Department to file a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clarify the scope of Section 230, a proposition that has already drawn rebukes from the two Democratic members of the five-person commission.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement Thursday that the commission “will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.” He added that “this debate is an important one.”
Section 230 gives media platforms “legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them cover to make good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms,” according to the Hill.
The president claimed that the order would strip the liability protection from companies that censor content, have Barr work with states to develop regulations and ensure government funding does not go to companies that suppress free speech. The order also instructs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prohibit social media companies from engaging in “any deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce,” Trump said.
“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers it has faced in American history, frankly, and you know what’s going on as well as anybody. It’s not good,” Trump told reporters. “This censorship and bias is a threat to freedom itself,” Trump said.
He said that social media companies have had “unchecked power to censure, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences” and added that if he were able to shut Twitter down, he would.
“We can’t continue to let this happen, it’s very, very unfair,” Trump said.
The attorney general said that the DOJ would pursue litigation to regulate social media companies that violate users’ rights.
The president seemed to focus primarily on Twitter. “The choices that Twitter makes when it chooses to suppress, edit, blacklist, or shadowban are editorial decisions, pure and simple,” Trump said. “In that moment, Twitter ceases to be a public platform. They become an editor with a viewpoint.”
Twitter recently flagged a pair of Trump’s posts with fact-check warnings, provoking the president’s ire.
The social media giant for the first time applied a warning label to two of the president’s tweets warning of the potential for fraud in California’s mail-in voting, urging users to “get the facts about mail-in ballots.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany spent some time on Thursday correcting the media’s misconception that California’s mail-in voting is not rife for fraud.
— Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) May 28, 2020
She also sparred with CNN’s Jim Acosta over the fact-checking issue. Acosta claimed that Trump needs to be fact-checked because of his propensity to tell “lies,” citing the Washington Post’s absurdly biased list of 18,000 “false and misleading” statements. McEnany threw the accusation that the president needs to be fact-checked back in Acosta’s face. “There is no one that should be fact checked more than the mainstream media that has been continually wrong about a number of things,” she said as she began ticking off a list that included his own network.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany spars with CNN's Jim Acosta over fact-checking:
"There is no one that should be fact checked more than the mainstream media that has been continually wrong about a number of things."pic.twitter.com/TCApd99Rnp
— Alex Salvi (@alexsalvinews) May 28, 2020
In his statement Thursday, the president said that a platform’s decision to fact-check a conservative’s tweets while ignoring dubious Democrat tweets was “inappropriate” and amounted to “political activism.”
When asked about the possibility that his executive order will be challenged in court, Trump acknowledged that it would probably happen, but added, “what isn’t?”