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28 May, 2020 20:20

Trump signs social media executive order challenging platforms' liability protections

Trump signs social media executive order challenging platforms' liability protections

US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order aimed at the major social media platforms, denouncing the tech behemoths as “tantamount to a monopoly.” The order may alter Section 230, which protects them from litigation.

Trump signed the order, which aims to modify the legal protections currently shielding Big Tech from lawsuits over content hosted on its platforms, on Thursday  as he addressed reporters at the White House.

Excoriating the platforms for what he and many others believe to be editorial bias, the president added that US Attorney General William Barr will also be tasked with working with states to enforce legal restrictions on social media firms.

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While Trump admitted challenges to the new order from tech firms were likely, he seemed confident his administration would be able to weather the storm. 

While the president explained the executive order as stripping Big Tech of its Section 230 liability shield, Barr clarified that the order itself does not repeal the decades-old measure. The administration is also mulling legislation that would spike the controversial provision, and Barr announced plans to pursue further litigation against the Big Tech firms, many of which are already facing multiple antitrust probes. 

Trump threatened to “close down” - or at least “strongly regulate” - social media platforms that engage in ideologically-motivated censorship earlier this week after Twitter slapped a “fact-check” notice on a tweet he’d posted about mail-in voting.

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Before signing the executive order, he doubled down on his criticism of the platform, declaring that decisions about what content gets fact-checked and what gets ignored are “editorial positions” and the equivalent of political activism. Merely the act of making such choices is “inappropriate” for a platform under Section 230 protection, he told reporters.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides a legal shield for internet service providers, social media companies, and other platforms under which they cannot be sued for content created by their users. However, platforms may still censor “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” material without running afoul of the statute.

Asked whether he’d considered deleting his Twitter account given his frustration over censorship, the president blamed the “fake news” media for forcing him to remain on the platform. “If we had a fair press in this country, I would do that in a heartbeat. There’s nothing that I’d rather do than get rid of my whole Twitter account,” he said.

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