"This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!" President Trump tweeted Thursday morning. The reason? Late in the afternoon, he signed an executive order that could deal a big blow to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media companies. Among other things, the move could strip the companies of protection from lawsuits stemming from comments or videos posted by individuals. All of this comes amid the backdrop of Twitter's move to start fact-checking the president's tweets, which he has condemned as politically biased. "We're fed up with it," Trump said at the signing, per the AP. Coverage:
- 26 words: Get ready to hear a lot about "Section 230." This is part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, and legal experts (and authors) say it includes "26 words that created the Internet," per CNN. Those words: "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 section shields social media companies that act in "good faith" from lawsuits due to content posted on their platforms, and Trump's executive order directs federal regulators to rethink the law.
- More on the law: The 1996 statute is controversial because critics say it allows social media companies to reap profits while avoiding accountability for content such as hate speech and terrorist propaganda, reports the Washington Post. Any change in the law "could mean potentially dramatic free-speech implications and wide-ranging consequences for a broad swath of companies," per the Post.
- Bias allegations: The executive order also deals with accusations of political bias, and it would charge the FTC with handling complaints and making sure companies are adhering to pledges of neutrality. The current law gives companies much leeway to remove content they deem objectionable, and Trump contends they're abusing their power, reports Politico. "In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online," says a draft version.
- Shift in view: Here's how the Wall Street Journal sees the change: The executive order "would seek to reshape the way that federal regulators view Twitter and other social-media companies—not as hosts of speech but as monopolies that control millions of Americans' daily experiences on their platforms." But any change in regulations would almost certainly end up in court, with companies arguing that the federal government is guilty of overreach.
- Not enough authority? The AP quotes a law professor at Yale who says any new regulation of social media companies would likely have to be approved by Congress.
- The politics: Even if the initiative to impose new restrictions on the companies fails, Trump will likely relish the fight against media powerhouses he accuses of bias. The new Twitter fight is an example. "This plays right into President Trump's hands," Jason Miller, communications director for Trump's 2016 campaign, tells CNN. "They basically handed him a massive gift."
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