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Public Knowledge Rejects White House Executive Order Targeting Free Speech on Social Media Platforms

May 28, 2020 , , , , ,
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Today, President Trump will reportedly sign an Executive Order that would direct the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission to regulate speech on social media platforms. Based on reporting, the Executive Order calls for the FCC to develop rules detailing how and when the law shields social media companies when they remove or moderate content on their platforms. Public Knowledge finds this Administration’s potential interference with free speech and abandonment of agency independence alarming, and reminds President Trump that neither the FCC nor the FTC have any authority to regulate social media.

The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, President and CEO of Public Knowledge:

“The President does not have the power to rewrite the law, as this Executive Order attempts to do. Section 230 grants platforms the freedom to make editorial choices with respect to content posted by users — including senators and the President of the United States — according to the plain text of the statute, congressional intent, and every court decision on this matter.  Along with the First Amendment itself, Section 230 gives platforms like Twitter the ability to adopt specific points of view and to make the kinds of editorial choices that Twitter has made. At the same time, Section 230 only shields platforms from liability for user-posted content, not content the platform itself creates.

“Anyone who disagrees with choices popular platforms make should support policies designed to empower users and increase competition — not unconstitutional policies designed to regulate speech and reduce the ability of platforms to remove or restrict access to content they find objectionable, as the President has proposed.

“The FCC should reject this attempt to require it to regulate online platforms. If the FCC were to respond to the President’s request, not only would it be acting without any statutory authority and contradicting its own recent holdings, it would be acting unconstitutionally and abandoning any pretense that it is an ‘independent’ agency. The FTC should likewise reject calls to transform its consumer protection and competition authorities into tools to pressure platforms into adopting politically favored points of view, or content moderation and editorial policies that those in power want them to have.

“Of course platforms should act fairly and consistently, and afford their users transparent policies and due process. But the specific editorial choices that platforms make, and the content of their policies, are theirs alone to decide. A diverse and competitive media and online ecosystem, not government content regulation, is the best way to ensure that all voices are heard.”

Please view our blog post, “Could the FCC Regulate Social Media Under Section 230? No,” for more information on why this Executive Order will likely fail. You may also view Chapter V of “The Digital Platform Act,” a book by Senior Vice President Harold Feld, for more information on Section 230 and how to moderate digital platform content in general.