Donald Trump has signed an executive order directing federal agencies to clarify the scope of a U.S. law known as Section 230, which protects internet companies of responsibility for the content published by users and allows them to regulate or eliminate publications that, although legal, are objectionable.

The President of the United States has followed through on his threat against social media in response to Twitter’s decision to brand two of his messages as “potentially misleading.” Trump’s messages were sure to vote-by-mail fraud in California. Twitter did not delete or edit the messages, but prompted readers to verify the facts, in compliance with the terms of use of the service to which any user submits.

Although they were one more (and not the worst) of the hundreds of false, toxic, hateful or misinformed messages, which according to their critics Trump has published, it was the first time that Twitter described any of their messages in this way. The response was immediate and Trump threatened to take measures against social networks, something he aspires to since he arrived at the White House despite being an avid user of them. And it has done so in retaliation.

Executive order against social networks

The executive order is intended for federal agencies to find a crack to regulate or suspend Section 230. It is a Communications Act passed in 1996, which serves as protection for online platforms. In addition to limiting their legal responsibility for the content published by users, it allows Twitter or Facebook to eliminate or restrict access to the material that determine “in good faith” as obscene, excessively violent, harassing, false, hateful and generally objectionable.

Such restrictions on Internet content are generally legal because the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects freedom of expression, only applies to government actors, not private companies.

Still, Trump believes that «Twitter is making editorial decisions. At that point, Twitter ceases to be a neutral public platform, and becomes an editor with a point of view. And I think we can say the same for Google or Facebook and perhaps others, “Trump told reporters.

In addition to the executive order that will go after the agencies’ report to the communications regulator FCC, United States Attorney General William Barr also said he was seeking to draft legislation to alter the protections of Section 230.

And economic pressure. Trump’s decree requires all government agencies to review their advertising and marketing spending on digital platforms, to ensure that they do not benefit “any social network that suppresses freedom of expression,” he explained.

Donald Trump: bluster or a very serious announcement?

From the White House, they told reporters that Donald Trump would shut down Twitter if his lawyers found a legal way to do it. But there are many doubts among legal experts that something like this could be achieved. A first analysis of Trump’s executive order finds that it contradicts court decisions that have interpreted Section 230 to provide broad immunity to online media.

«Much of the executive order is a bluff“Explains Kate Klonick, professor of internet law at St. John’s University. “Basically it sets aside 25 years of judicial precedents,” he says. The order “is 95% political theater, rhetoric with no legal foundation and no legal impact,” said Daphne Keller, an Internet law expert at Stanford University.

Another expert like Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer, said that while agreeing with Trump’s concerns about the alleged censorship, he acknowledged that much of the executive order would not lead to real reforms. “I think it is much more a statement of leadership than a plan for anything that is really going to happen.” We will see. Donald Trump is highly unpredictable, although the case gives for much debate.


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