RTDNA’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force condemns an executive order issued by President Trump targeting social media platforms’ protections under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
Section 230 provides legal safeguards for online platforms against most liability claims originating from content posted by users. The new order directs the Commerce Department, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to develop, recommend and then implement specific regulations focusing extra scrutiny on social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
The president and many of his supporters have argued for some time that social media companies stifle politically conservative points of view. He expressed particular concern after Twitter recently fact checked some of his tweets that alleged voting by mail is susceptible to a higher risk of voter fraud.
“Even though the president is one of the most influential users of Twitter, and is often himself accused of tweeting inaccurate and misleading claims, he is now attempting to make fundamental changes to everyone’s ability to use social media as an outlet for their Constitutionally-protected right to express truths, beliefs and opinions,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA executive director.
“To be sure, social media outlets have been subjected to criticism for provoking the spread of often-harmful misinformation and even disinformation, i.e., the intentional distribution of false messages. But the solution to this very real problem should be surgical and fair, and not a complete amputation of Americans’ free speech rights,” Shelley added.
It is unclear what real effect the executive order could have, since both the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission are regulatory agencies independent of any president’s directives.
Nonetheless, the Voice of the First Amendment Task Force believes that any time a chief executive of the federal government uses his or her large megaphone to threaten free expression, every American should be concerned.
Famed press freedom attorney Floyd Abrams, recipient of the Radio Television Digital News Foundation’s 2003 First Amendment Leadership Award, told Reuters that the president’s latest attempt to fight criticism is nearly unprecedented.
“In terms of presidential efforts to limit critical commentary about themselves, I think one would have to go back to the Sedition Act of 1798 - which made it illegal to say false things about the president and certain other public officials - to find an attack supposedly rooted in law by a president on any entity which comments or prints comments about public issues and public people,” Abrams said.
RTDNA’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force defends against threats to the First Amendment and news media access and helps the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to the task force by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and contributing to support press freedom.