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President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting social media companies, claiming that sites like Twitter and Facebook have “unchecked power” to censor and restrict points of view.
The text of the order was not immediately released, but a draft circulated earlier on Thursday showed that the president would ask the FCC to review whether there should be limitations to tech platforms’ immunity from liability over third party content on their sites.
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Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, shields platforms from liability, something that the industry has said has allowed social media sites to grow and flourish. Without it, platforms would be forced to police every piece of content posted on their sites to ensure that it does not expose them to lawsuits.
The draft executive order suggested that the platforms were now acting as gatekeepers in the way that they moderate third party content. Section 230 also does not hold platforms liable if they restrict access to “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable content.”
After Twitter slapped two of Trump’s tweets with fact checking links this week, he lashed out at the platforms, threatening to shut them down or impose regulations, while the White House announced plans to issue the order. Trump and other Republicans have long complained of bias and even censorship on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
“They’ve had unchecked power to censure, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump said before signing the order.
He added, “There’s no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction.”
He argued that Twitter is making “editorial decisions,” and then “ceases to be a neutral public platform. They become an editor with a viewpoint. I think we can say that about others also, whether you’re looking at Google, whether you’re looking at Facebook and perhaps others.”
“Imagine if your phone company silenced or edited your conversations,” he said. “Social media companies have vastly more power and more reach than any phone company in the United States.”
Trump also acknowledged that the order could be subject to litigation, and that the desire to place limits on Section 230 will require legislation.
Before he signed the order, Trump was asked whether he had considered deleting his Twitter given his criticisms of the platform.
“If you weren’t fake, I would not even think about it, I would do that in a heartbeat,” Trump said to the reporter.
A spokesperson for Twitter said that they had no comment on the executive order.
But trade groups representing tech platforms pushed back against the White House action earlier on Thursday, and even the claims of widespread bias against conservative viewpoints.
“Claims of so-called viewpoint bias rely on isolated anecdotes that are undermined by the fact that politicians and political groups successfully use social media to reach millions of followers every day,” said Jon Berroya, interim president and CEO of the Internet Association.
At the press briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany cited specific examples of what she saw as bias against conservative viewpoints. She cited not just Twitter’s fact check labels placed on the president’s tweet, but an instance last year when Dan Scavino, the deputy chief of staff, posted a video on the site and it received a “manipulated media” label.
In March, Scavino posted a clip in which Joe Biden appears to say, “We cannot win this reelection. We can only elect Donald Trump.” In fact, Biden said, “We cannot win this reelection … excuse me … we can only reelect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here.”
McEnany told reporters, “It is no coincidence that these two unbelievable interventions by Twitter were targeted against the President of the United States and one of the President’s top advisors. This is bias in action.”
She also complained that the makers of the movie Unplanned, an anti-abortion movie, was suspended. Twitter told Fox News that the account was suspended in error and it was later reinstated.
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