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Trump signs executive order on social media, claiming to protect ‘Free Speech’

Trump and his allies have often accused Twitter as well as Facebook of bias against conservative voices

May 29, 2020 / 07:45 AM IST

Maggie Haberman and Kate Conger

Denouncing what he said was the power of social media “to shape the interpretation of public events,” President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday directing federal regulators to crack down on companies like Twitter and to consider taking away the legal protections that shield them from liability for what gets posted on their platforms.

Trump and his allies have often accused Twitter as well as Facebook of bias against conservative voices, and the president has been urged for years to take a harder line against them. He had resisted until this week, when Twitter fact-checked his own false statements in two posts.

That move by Twitter prompted an outcry from conservatives, who said that the platform should not be able to selectively choose whose statements it was fact-checking. But while the order sought to impose new regulatory pressure on social media companies, legal experts said it would be difficult to enforce.

“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers it has faced in American history,” Trump told reporters in signing the order.

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“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. Twitter, the president added, was making “editorial decisions.”

“In these moments, Twitter ceases to be a neutral public platform — they become an editor with a viewpoint,” he said, saying that Facebook and Google are included in his critiques.

With its order, the administration sought to curtail the protections given to technology companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which limits the liability that companies face for content posted by their users.

The law has enabled technology companies to flourish, allowing them to mostly set their own rules for their platforms and to collect a vast amount of free content from users against which to sell ads. The executive order is aimed at removing that shield, Trump said.

The companies, along with many free speech advocates, have maintained that amending Section 230 would cripple online discussion and bury platforms under endless legal bills.

Liz Bourgeois, a Facebook spokeswoman, said that “by exposing companies to potential liability for everything that billions of people around the world say, this would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone.”

c.2020 The New York Times Company
New York Times
first published: May 29, 2020 07:45 am

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