On Thursday morning, Donald Trump will sign a wide-ranging executive order that accuses tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter of political bias, and seeks to curb legal protections that the social media companies now enjoy on content posted on their platforms, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
According to the Post, which cited two anonymous individuals, Trump wants to allow federal regulators to rethink current federal code that shields social media companies from content posted. The move could make it easier for the government to attempt to punish companies for how they moderate user content, potentially sparking a serious conflict over free speech rights.
The executive order, which is still in the draft phase, will primarily deal with how to interpret section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
The rule is commonly interpreted to mean that tech companies are currently free from liability for content posted by users. But, according to the Post, Trump’s executive order will ask the Commerce Department to “reconsider the scope of the law,” and ask the FCC to investigate complaints of political bias and also whether or not social media companies moderate content in a neutral way. Though how neutrality would be defined is not yet known.
Any move to reconsider social media companies’ legal liability is likely to face a court challenge, the New York Times reported.
Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.
The order comes just days after Twitter, for the first time ever, attached a fact-check notification to two of the president’s tweets that contained false claims about mail-in ballots. In response, Trump accused the company — on Twitter, no less — of “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election” and “stifling FREE SPEECH.” Notably, Trump’s actual speech was not curtailed. His tweets have not been deleted and he remains able to use the service with zero restrictions.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday morning, the president railed against major social media companies, without singling Twitter out by name. “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen,” Trump tweeted.
The tension between Trump and Silicon Valley has been building for years over what he, and many of his supporters, believe is unfair treatment of conservative voices. Last year, the Trump White House launched an online tool allowing people to report “political bias” on social media. The “Tech Bias Story Sharing Tool,” which is no longer accepting submissions, asked users to share”what happened on social media,” and offered a list of companies to complain about, including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
President Trump, who has over 80 million followers on Twitter, has also routinely blasted the top social media companies since taking office in 2017, claiming without evidence that conservatives are censored far more than liberals. “Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices,” President Trump tweeted in 2018. “Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen.”
Major tech companies, on the other hand, have consistently denied targeting conservatives.
“Impartiality is our guiding principle,” Twitter chief Jack Dorsey told Congress in 2018.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, in his own 2018 visit to Washington, D.C., said he understands why conservatives are worried about censorship since in his view Silicon Valley “is an extremely left-leaning place.” He added he was concerned about this, too, and the company was doing what it can to make “sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do.”
But in a Thursday interview with Fox News’ Dan Perino, Zuckerberg said he disagreed with Twitter fact-checking Trump’s tweet but said it wasn’t the “right reflex” for a government to “censor a platform because they’re worried about censorship.”