WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, the Justice Department submitted to Congress draft legislation as part of the Trump administration’s full-throttled crusade against online platforms that fact check or contextualize the president’s social-media posts.
The proposal would restrict the protections granted to platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Specifically, it would take away the free hand both platforms and user communities have to moderate and take down posts they find “objectionable” by restricting them to remove content only under specific scenarios.
In May, Trump issued an executive order in direct response to Twitter adding a factual correction to his false tweet about the alleged dangers of mail-in voting. Earlier this summer, the Trump FCC opened a proceeding on an administration proposal seeking to modify Section 230 in response to the president’s order. And at the end of August, Free Press joined several allies in a lawsuit against the Trump administration, asserting that the executive order is unconstitutional.
Earlier this month, Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tennessee), Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina) and Roger Wicker (R–Mississippi) introduced legislation that hews very closely to this DoJ draft. It joins several other legislative proposals designed to chip away at the federal law that shields platforms from legal liability for the material users post online while providing them with the leeway to use efforts “taken in good faith” to moderate content that violates their community standards.
Free Press Action Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:
“The frenzy of misguided and unconstitutional efforts to change Section 230 should make it clear to everyone that President Trump and his allies in Washington will stop at nothing until they bend social-media companies to their political will. Trump constantly gives away the game in his frequent attacks on Twitter for fact checking him and his claims about mail-in voting. This charade is unfolding in the weeks before the 2020 presidential election for a reason: Donald Trump needs online platforms to amplify his repeated lies about mail-in voting, Black Lives Matter protesters and the administration’s response to COVID-19, among other topics.
“Like the executive order it mimics, the draft legislation from the Department of Justice is a naked attempt to silence anyone who attempts to correct or criticize Trump, his allies and fellow travelers. Any legislation modeled after this draft would limit the ability of websites and platforms to set their own standards for their online communities. It would incentivize platforms to host content created by racists, sexists, propagandists and trolls. This legislation would also open the door to those who want to drown the internet in an ocean of disinformation and toxicity.
“Section 230 enables websites and users, regardless of their size, to tend to their own gardens and set standards for the kinds of discourse they allow without having the government improperly peering over their shoulders to determine whether their attempts to moderate lawful but harmful third-party content are right or wrong.
“Members of Congress would be wise to follow the sound logic of their predecessors who created Section 230. A regime of government-mandated speech completely undermines efforts to promote free speech and a diversity of views online. Congress should respect the Constitution and the First Amendment and reject this dangerous attempt to push online platforms into service of all things Trump.”