WASHINGTON — On Thursday, President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order punishing social-media companies that fact check his online posts.
On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted a threat to take action against these platforms after Twitter attached a fact-checking link to an inaccurate presidential tweet about the legality of mail-in voting. The president has mischaracterized the fact checking of a federal official as censorship and threatened to prevent any private platform from taking similar actions.
According to a draft, the executive order would require the Federal Communications Commission to craft a rule that would potentially exempt social-media companies from protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that shields companies from legal liability for the material their users post online.
The draft order also calls on the White House Office of Digital Strategy to “reactivate” a tool through which people can report cases of so-called “online censorship and other potentially unfair or deceptive acts or practices by online platforms.” The tool would collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission for potential follow-up.
In addition, the draft also prohibits all federal agencies and offices from spending government money on advertising with platforms that allegedly “violate free speech principles.”
Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:
“This executive order is a naked attempt by the president to bully into silence Twitter, other social-media sites and anyone who attempts to correct or criticize Trump. This blatant and bungling attempt at censorship is outrageous and unconstitutional.
“Trump’s threat to use the executive branch’s power to punish internet companies for Twitter’s mild fact check of his statements is exactly the kind of abuse of power that the Constitution and our First Amendment were written to prevent. It’s undoubtedly the first step down an increasingly dark path of Trump using the power of his office to intimidate and silence media companies, journalists, activists and anyone else who criticizes or corrects him.
“The FCC is supposed to be an independent agency, not the censorship or propaganda arm of the White House. That Brendan Carr, an FCC commissioner, would go on TV cloaking himself in the language of free speech while entertaining Trump’s authoritarian actions is shameful and antithetical to the rights and principles of a free society.
“Trump could not be more wrong on the law, the facts and the scope of his power. Neither independent agencies like the FCC nor other executive-branch agencies like the Department of Commerce have any role to play in implementing, adjudicating or deciding any matter regarding Section 230. Section 230 was written to protect free speech on the open internet. Changing Section 230 is Congress’ prerogative, not the president’s by fiat. His poorly written executive order is an embarrassment and would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.”