Common Cause Joins Suit Challenging President’s Executive Order to Police Speech on Social Media

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Today, Common Cause joined Rock the Vote, Voto Latino, Free Press, and MapLight in filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California challenging President Trump’s ‘Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship,’ signed on May 28, 2020. The Executive Order (EO) seeks to police speech on social media platforms through a range of retaliatory government actions. The EO specifically calls on the FCC to adopt rules that would limit the liability shield social media platforms have for their content moderation decisions under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The EO requires the FTC to consider taking action against social media platforms when their content moderation decisions do not align with their public representations. The EO also places restrictions on federal agencies from advertising on social media platforms and directs the Attorney General to create a working group in collaboration with state attorneys general that would examine the enforcement of state statutes and create watch lists of users based on their interactions with social media content.

The lawsuit explains that the EO is a retaliatory move in response to Twitter fact-checking inaccurate tweets from the President about the processes for mail-in-voting.  The lawsuit argues that the EO violates social media platforms’ First Amendment protections to curate and fact-check content and ensure that accurate information, including how to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day, is not undermined by misinformation. In turn, the lawsuit explains that the EO violates Common Cause and other plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to receive curated content without government interference. The lawsuit seeks a judgment declaring the EO is unconstitutional under the First Amendment and an injunction preventing the President and federal agencies from implementing the EO.

Statement of Michael Copps, Common Cause Special Advisor and Former FCC Commissioner: 

“The Executive Order is a blatant and illegal power grab by the President to pressure social media platforms from combatting disinformation, particularly content that would suppress eligible voters from participating in the upcoming election.  Access to accurate information about voting procedures is critical to our democracy especially at a time when states are expanding access to voting by mail to ensure voters can still cast their ballot in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media platforms have First Amendment rights to curate and fact-check content, and their users have rights to receive accurate information without this kind of government interference.

“The President should not be allowed to make retaliatory threats and use federal resources as tools for voter suppression. We urge the Court to find this Executive Order unconstitutional in order to prevent the President from turning the government into the speech police and hand-picking speech he does and does not like.”

To read the complaint, click here.

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