President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday designed to challenge liability protections for social-media companies after Twitter placed a fact-check label on a series of tweets in which the president criticized voting-by-mail as susceptible to fraud.
The order directs the U.S. commerce secretary to file a petition with the Federal Trade Commission to clarify what kinds of speech should be permitted on social media sites without those sites incurring liability. Currently, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts social-media companies from liability in case of a post by a third party containing false or misleading information.
WATCH: President Trump signed an executive order cracking down on “censorship” by social media sites, a move widely seen by critics as retaliation against Twitter’s decision to slap fact-checking labels on the president’s tweets. https://t.co/ydwFbf2aFN pic.twitter.com/U9WvWqvqo4
— CNBC (@CNBC) May 28, 2020
Social-media companies have had “unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “What [these companies] choose to fact-check and what they choose to ignore or even promote is nothing more than political activism.”
The president also said of Twitter, “I think we shut it down as far as I’m concerned but I’d have to go through a legal process…if it were able to be legally shut down I would do it.”
Attorney General William Barr, speaking alongside Trump, indicated that a full reinterpretation of Section 230 of the CDA would have to be accomplished through litigation as well as legislation.
Social-media companies grew “because they held themselves out as free public forums, where a variety of diverse voices can come on and be heard,” Barr said. “That’s why people joined them. But now that they have become these very powerful networks…they’ve now switched, and [are] using that market power to force particular viewpoints.”
Some conservatives, including big-tech hawk Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), have backed Trump’s push to end liability protections for social-media companies. The sentiment is shared by Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former vice president Joe Biden.