President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday calling for social media giants to lose their shield against liability if they engage in censorship.
The order comes after Twitter fact checked two of the president’s tweets regarding mail-in voting this week, although Trump’s criticism of Facebook and Twitter far predated the incident. The order calls for changing Section 230, the law governing internet platforms, to curb immunity from legal liability that platforms currently enjoy. Ultimately, however, it is up to Congress to change the law.
“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see,” the order says.
“Immunity should not extend beyond its text and purpose to provide protection for those who purport to provide users a forum for free and open speech, but in reality use their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints,” it continues.
“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 said at the Oval Office signing. “There’s no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction.”
Trump blasted Twitter at the signing as well, saying “They’ve had unchecked power” to censor, and that fact-checking the president was “political activism.”
“They’re editorial decisions,” Trump said. “In those moments, Twitter 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.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quick to criticize Trump’s order, however.
.@SpeakerPelosi calls Trump’s executive order on social media “a desperate distraction from his failure to provide a national testing strategy to defeat COVID-19.” It does “nothing to address big Internet companies’ complete failure to fight the spread of disinformation.” pic.twitter.com/Qv00KpYIP5
— Alexandra von Nahmen (@AlexandravonNah) May 28, 2020
Trump was making waves about potential social media regulation before Twitter fact checked him, however. It was reported Saturday that Trump was considering the formation of a panel to handle complaints of anti-conservative bias on social media, according to the Wall St. Journal.
“We enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation. We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent and in regular communication with elected officials in regard to our efforts,” Twitter said in a statement to WSJ. (RELATED: Twitter Says It Will Not Remove Trump’s Tweets About Scarborough’s Dead Intern)