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Trump to Sign Executive Order Against Social Media After Being Fact Checked

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Trump to Sign Executive Order Against Social Media After Being Fact Checked

2020-05-28 15:47:00

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Public domain)

Donald Trump is never one to let others have the last word, and his feud with Twitter is no different. After his tweets were slapped with a fact-check label and links to articles proving him wrong, several White House reporters said he would be signing an executive order on Thursday to remove protections from social media. 

The president has been tweeting a debunked conspiracy theory regarding the death of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough's aide in 2001 when he was still a Florida congressman. Both the host and the young woman's family asked Twitter to remove the posts, but they refused.

Trump also tweeted a pair of articles railing about mail-in ballots. Twitter included a comment on each, "Get the facts about mail-in ballot," and links to Washington Post, CNN, and the Hill. Trump became irate and swore he would shut down the social network. 

On Wednesday night it was reported that Trump would be signing an executive order for federal regulators to reconsider Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that was established in 1996. The measure protects online companies from liability for content that is posted there.

On Wednesday night several news outlets received what appears to be a draft of the executive order. Assistant legal professor Kate Klonick of St. John's University School of Law published a draft as well. 

While the apparent draft could change by the time Trump signs it, the version that the news outlets published will instruct the Commerce Department to ask the Federal Communications Commission to call a rulemaking proceeding for the scope of the law to be reconsidered. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission will take on the responsibility for investigating complaints of political bias to determine whether moderation policies conflict with vows for neutrality.

The president tweeted on Thursday morning that it will be "a big day for social media and FAIRNESS!" Later, he added that it's "so ridiculous to see Twitter trying to make the case that mail-in ballots are not subject to FRAUD." He labeled Yoel Roth, who oversees the integrity of Twitter, a "hater," despite the company saying the decision to fact-check Trump was as a group and not just one person.

While Twitter is Trump's favorite platform for announcements and vitriol, he put them on the same platform as the media, calling them out as unfair to conservative voices. Twitter and other social networks deny they suppress conservative speech. 

Even before it's been released, there are already concerns being made about free speech. "Much as he might wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter. This order, if issued, would be a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president," said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane in a statement.

Marty Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, tweeted that the draft "is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Mostly amounts to redirecting DoC to petition the FCC for a proposed reg to 'clarify' 230(c)(2)(A)." 

He added that even if Trump could order Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to do this, "it's hard to imagine the FCC will do anything with it. And as for the FTC, Trump doesn't have the authority to issue this directive, and the Commission will ignore it." He advised his followers to "pay no attention to that man in front of the curtain."

Experts believe it would be up to the FTC and FCC as independent agencies whether to obey the executive order. A former Republican commissioner at the FCC, Robert McDowell, tweeted that the draft would make the FCC police online speech and that the president "cannot confer on FCC, an independent agency, new legal powers." He added that "speech control is unconstitutional" on online platforms, as they are speakers like TV channels and newspapers under the First Amendment. 

"Social media can be frustrating. But an Executive Order that would turn the FCC into the president's speech police is not the answer. It's time for those in Washington to speak up for the First Amendment. History won't be kind to silence," tweeted Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr seemed to be the lone voice supporting Trump, saying in a Fox News interview that if a company like Twitter decides "to engage in partisan political debates" and take on the president, then that "raises questions about whether they should get special treatment." 

Even this past weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump was considering creating a commission that would investigate social media for supposed bias against conservative comments.

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