Trump Executive Order to Police Social Media is Blatant and Illegal Power Grab

Today, the President is expected to sign an Executive Order (EO) that attempts to police speech on social media platforms. The draft Executive Order comes after Twitter fact-checked inaccurate tweets from the President regarding processes for mail-in voting, despite the fact that Twitter enforced its policy to add warning labels to misleading tweets in violation of the platform’s community standards.

 According to a draft, the Executive Order would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to police speech on social media platforms. The EO specifically calls on the FCC to adopt rules that sets conditions on when Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants social media platforms a shield from liability when they decide to suppress or remove content from their sites. The EO would also place restrictions on federal agencies from advertising on social media platforms. Finally, the EO 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. 

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

 “This draft Executive Order is a blatant and illegal power grab by the President in his attempt to eliminate any oversight of his spread of misinformation on social media and censor dissenting voices. The President’s intentions with this draft Executive Order are clear – to put political pressure on social media companies to keep them from taking any action that would correct blatant disinformation he spreads online, particularly content that would suppress the votes of American citizens. With this draft EO, the President is attempting to shift the conversation away from the RNC’s efforts to rig the rules against voters and confuse people about their right to vote.  

 “The consequences of this draft Executive Order also have dangerous legal and policy implications for the role of our government and our ability to communicate online. In addition to the potential First Amendment violations, the draft Executive Order threatens the independence of the FCC and FTC, which do not take direction from the President. The FCC also has no jurisdiction over websites and social media platforms. More importantly, the FCC is not the speech police of the President and should not be able to decide when social media platforms are shielded from liability immunity when moderating content and when they are not.

 “The draft Executive Order could also cripple the ability of federal agencies to advertise on social media at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing critical information regarding the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. The Census Bureau is also advertising on social media to spread the word about the 2020 Census, a vital component of democracy that ensures our government bases policy decisions on facts and accurate data. Placing restrictions on federal agency advertising, particularly during a public health crisis, has the potential to endanger lives.    

 “As social media platforms have grown in size, they have become a pathway for bad actors to spread disinformation, spread content designed to interfere with our elections, harass marginalized groups or otherwise disrupt our democracy. But this is not a problem that can be fixed by an Executive Order, especially one from a President with an axe to grind who wants to hand-pick speech he does or does not like.”