Trump Signs Executive Order Attempting to Kill Section 230

Trump has signed an executive order in a bid to kill off social media. The order attempts to strip social media platforms of Section 230 protections.

US President, Donald Trump, has declared war on social media. Yesterday, we reported on Trump vowing to hit social media hard after Twitter attached a fact checking note below two tweets. That response is pretty much the latest example why many view the president as extraordinarily thin skinned. Trump has repeatedly called the move censorship (it is not, the Tweets are still up) and political bias (only if you count reality as “political bias”).

Now, it seems that he has followed through on his threats and signed an executive order targeting section 230 protections afforded to these companies. From CNBC:

President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order cracking down on “censorship” by social media sites, a move widely seen by critics as retaliation against Twitter’s decision to slap fact-checking labels on the president’s tweets.

The executive order targets the immunity granted companies through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Without congressional action, however, there are limits to what Trump can do with the executive order. The president said Thursday that he would indeed pursue legislation in addition to the order.

Attorney General William Barr, who also attended the signing, said the Justice Department would also seek to sue social media companies, saying the statute “has been stretched way beyond its original intention.”

For those who don’t know, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a provision in law that says that platforms are not liable for the content published by their users. There are, of course, limits to these protections. Platforms must legally also take down illegal content as well, thus requiring them to moderate their content.

Of course, it is this moderation that Trump is targeting in the first place. He accused social media of censorship (remember, Twitter never removed his tweets) and his executive order says that section 230 should not apply to platforms that alter, censor, or alter user content. In short, if (and it’s a bit if) is ultimately legally binding, then if illegal content is posted by users, platforms would be forbidden from removing said content. Yet, other laws require the platforms to remove said content. So, you could be looking at the neutralization of Section 230 in the first place.

As many pointed out, the executive order will be very limited in teeth. This is because in order to carry through the ambitions of the order, it needs backing from legislation. Democrats, of course, control the house, so such legislation would face some pretty big hurdles.

During the press conference, a reporter asked Trump if he would simply delete his Twitter account if he is unhappy about the platform. Trump shot back and made his long tired argument about so-called “fake news” and said that he needs the Twitter account to circumvent the media. Of course, he was also asked whether or not he would consider using another social media platform, but Trump accused the platforms of having a monopoly. Other social media platforms, of course, do exist and nothing is stopping the president from using another platform.

One point to make here is that these are private companies we are talking about here. If someone were to walk into a restaurant and scream racist remarks or other obscenities, it is well within the right of the establishment in question to eject that person from the building. Free speech rights guards against government censorship. It is not the place of the government to dictate what kinds of speech you are allowed to have (i.e. The government can’t simply arrest people for saying people with red hair should be treated equally to everyone else).

So, what happened here is the same thing with the guy screaming obscenities and racism in an establishment. The people charged with enforcing the rules of the platform simply chose to finally enforce the rules. That is what they are entitled to do. Nothing what Twitter did was even remotely wrong in this case. In fact, many argue that what Twitter did was half baked and treating the president with more patience then your average user.

Another point to make is the fact that if this order escalates all the way to an effective ban on moderation, nothing really stops the largest players from relocating to other countries. These are corporations that have the ability to relocate in the first place. In addition to this, other countries would probably love to have them on their soil officially in the first place. In turn, any platform that attempts to start up would be faced with the same legal hurdles that other platforms would fine impossible to work with in the first place. So, in the end, one outcome is that the big platforms leave the country and allow people to access the platforms anyway. You solve nothing.

Of course, there is the other aspect of all of this: litigation. These are companies that do have the resources to legally fight this in court. Should they take on these laws and try to get them to be rendered unconstitutional in the courts, such a case would be in the courts for years. By then, hopefully another administration will take over and simply reverse what has happened.

In the end, this is a knee jerk reaction from a thin-skinned president who can’t even take a shred of criticism. There is no foresight in all of this and it is destined to backfire one way or another. Still, Americans should be concerned that the president has basically taken steps to kill an entire industrial sector with the stroke of a pen. Anyone who believes in free speech and/or the free market should be freaking out over this in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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