Thomas Gallatin / May 29, 2020

What Trump’s EO on Social Media Actually Does

It essentially clarifies and enforces Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

President Donald Trump signed his executive order on Preventing Online Censorship. The aim of the order is the protection of Americans’ First Amendment rights to free speech on Internet platforms. And as we have noted before, the crux of the argument hangs on the issue of whether social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter can be rightly classified as “platforms” (a status they currently enjoy) rather than “publishers” (a status that would make them liable for any content uploaded to their site).

Trump’s order, in agreement with Supreme Court rulings, recognizes that online social-media platforms “function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square” and therefore are not simply private forums where user speech can be censored. However, that perspective isn’t held by all conservatives; some criticize Trump’s order, claiming that, rather than protecting free speech, it will do just the opposite. They see it as unnecessary government regulation and a stepping stone to the reintroduction of the onerous “Fairness Doctrine,” only this time foisted onto the Internet.

Based upon what the actual order explicitly delineates, we’re not convinced those fears are legitimate. Trump’s order focuses on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, essentially clarifying the existing rules and calling for the Federal Communications Commission to engage in greater enforcement and oversight of them. In short, the order is aimed at addressing and ending the abuse of Section 230’s decency provision. Social-media giants have been allowed to get away with censorship by enforcing dubiously defined decency rules that clearly favor a leftist political bias.

Reason’s Stewart Baker further observes, “The order calls on social media platforms to explain their speech suppression policies and then to apply them honestly. It asks them to provide notice, a fair hearing, and an explanation to users who think they’ve been treated unfairly or worse by particular moderators.”

Whether Trump’s order will be effective in curbing abusive censorship practices remains to be seen, though at the very least Trump has brought the issue of Big Tech abuse to the forefront. We can hope that these tech conglomerates’ time of eating their cake and having it too will soon come to an end.

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