The order comes after Twitter labelled the president’s tweets about mail-in ballots for containing “potentially misleading information.”
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that takes aim at social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The order came after Twitter labelled Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots for containing “potentially misleading information.”
Signing the executive order doesn’t change how Twitter and Facebook operate, at least not for now. Instead, it calls for the government to clarify a federal law that shields online companies from liability for content posted by users, according to a draft of the order leaked Wednesday.
Trump built anticipation for the order with a tweet earlier Thursday.
“This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!” he wrote.
An apparent draft of the order was circulated to media outlets like Reuters and Protocol late Wednesday. Kate Klonick, an assistant legal professor at St. John’s University School of Law, also said she had a draft, which she posted on Twitter.
The draft order instructed the Commerce Department to ask the Federal Communications Commission to call a rule-making proceeding to rethink Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, which protects online platforms from liability for content posted by users. It also gave the Federal Trade Commission responsibility for investigating complaints of political bias and determining if tech companies’ content moderation policies conflict with their pledges for neutrality.
The FCC didn’t have a statement about the order before it was finalized.
Trump’s move came after Twitter added labels to two of his tweets in which he claimed that mail-in election ballots would be “fraudulent.” Clicking on Twitter’s label brings you to a page with tweets from news outlets that state mail-in ballots are rarely linked to voter fraud and Trump’s claims are “unsubstantiated.”
Trump also falsely stated in his tweets that California will send mail-in ballots to “anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there.” Only registered voters will receive ballots.
On Wednesday night, Twitter boss Jack Dorsey responded to criticism of his company’s executives over the labels.
“Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this,” he wrote. “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”
Dorsey also added that labelling Trump’s tweets don’t make Twitter an “arbiter of truth.” Trump’s tweets, he said, might “mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot.”
Twitter’s approach contrasts with Facebook, which didn’t label Trump’s remarks about mail-in ballots. Facebook typically doesn’t send posts and ads from politicians to its third-party fact-checkers. In interviews that aired on Fox News and CNBC, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that political speech is already heavily scrutinized and he thinks internet platforms shouldn’t be “arbiters of truth.”
While the executive order calls out Facebook, Twitter and Google for censoring political speech, some experts say Trump has actually benefited from current interpretations of Section 230.
“Section 230 incentivizes platforms to host all sorts of content without fear of being held liable for it. It enables speech, not censorship,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane in a statement Thursday. “If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation, and threats.”