President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday — after getting into a Twitter feud with Twitter — that is geared at rolling back legal protections enjoyed by social media platforms.
The code being targeted by Trump’s executive order is Section 230, the repeal of which has become a rallying cry for the president and his supporters.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
Section 230 is a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that says all internet platforms that provide online forums — such as Yelp, Twitter, and Facebook — cannot be held responsible for the third party posts on their sites.
The key portion reads: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Basically, it protects these sites from legal responsibility of what its users post. So, if someone on Instagram were to post something that defames another person or business, the poster can get sued, but Section 230 would protect the platform.
Without Section 230, online communication would likely be stifled because platforms would now be responsible for each post. With that added liability, sites would need to make sure they wouldn’t get in trouble for any post from any user, meaning there would be stricter guidelines policing what can and can’t be said online.
This means if a Yelp reviewer were to post something defamatory about a business, the business could sue both the user and the platform, but with Section 230 in place, only the reviewer could be held accountable.
Without Section 230, the internet, especially social media, would be completely different, so why does Trump — a frequent Twitter user who benefits from social media — want to get rid of it?
Section 230 also allows internet platforms to censor the content on their websites, meaning they can decide who gets banned, which posts get deleted, and who gets to stay.
And now, after Twitter flagged Trump’s posts as misinformation, the president thinks the platform is “stifling free speech” and policing him unfairly:
….Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
In retaliation for fact-checking his tweets, Trump signed an executive order that works to regulate social media platforms, claiming they had “unchecked power to censure, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences.”
“As president, I’ll not allow the American people to be bullied by these giant corporations,” he said during the Oval Office signing ceremony. “Many people have wanted this to be done by presidents for a long time. And now, we are doing it, and I’m sure there will be a lawsuit, and I’m also sure we will be going for legislation in addition to this.”
Twitter and other social media platforms would have less protection without Section 230, and would have less power to delete, censor, and police posts, but revoking it might not actually work to the president’s benefit.
“Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230,” Kate Ruane, a senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union told the New York Times. “If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation and threats.”
In response to Trump and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, — who bashed Twitter’s decision to police content — Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey reaffirmed his company’s commitment to fact-checking and pledged to “continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally:”
Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the co-author of Section 230, has also responded to Trump’s executive order.
“I have warned for years that this administration was threatening 230 in order to chill speech and bully companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter into giving him favorable treatment,” Wyden said in a statement. “Today Trump proved me right. I expect those companies, and every American who participates in online speech, to resist this illegal act by all possible means. Giving in to bullying by this president may be the single most unpatriotic act an American could undertake.”
Wyden added that no social media platform is required to protect any form of misinformation, regardless of who is posting, noting, “There is nothing in the law about political neutrality.”
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