'White House preparing executive order to police social media firms'

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By Luke Hurst
Donald Trump has accused social media firms of suppressing Conservative voices
Donald Trump has accused social media firms of suppressing Conservative voices   -   Copyright  REUTERS

The White House has drafted an executive order which would effectively allow the government to police social media moderation, according to reports.

The move would limit the legal protections given to social media companies over the content published — or taken down — on their sites, therefore giving US government agencies say over how social media companies curate content.

It appears to be the latest development in Donald Trump’s war on what he claims is a bias against Conservative views on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

CNN Business reports it obtained a copy of a summary of the draft executive order, titled "Protecting Americans from Online Censorship", which calls for the Federal Communications Commission to develop new regulations over how the law protects social media companies when they remove or suppress content.

The report adds the Federal Trade Commission would enforce the new policies when it conducts investigations into companies.

The draft, which is in its early stages, could lead to a “significant reinterpretation of a law” that was supposed to allow tech companies autonomy over how to deal with content on their sites, CNN reports.

The law

The current law, which offers protection for the “private blocking and screening of offensive material” is intended to “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation”.

Crucially, the law in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”

“Trump’s proposed executive order would transform the FCC and FTC from consumer protection agencies into regulators of online speech,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom, a Washington DC-based think tank.

“Ironically, the same people screaming about ‘censorship’ by private companies would empower regulators to decide what kinds of online speech should and shouldn’t be taken down. That Republicans, after decades of fighting government meddling in broadcasting, now want their own Fairness Doctrine for the Internet is staggeringly hypocritical.”

Trump’s allegation of bias in social media companies

The US President has long railed against social media firms for their supposed anti-conservative bias, claiming they have suppressed posts that support him or suppressed posts expressing conservative views. He has not provided evidence for these claims.

He even claimed his Twitter following was being kept down by Twitter "playing their political games", and called on Congress to get involved.

Recently he claimed, again without offering evidence, that Google worked to subvert his 2016 presidential campaign and warned he was watching it “very closely” ahead of the 2020 election.

Last month he welcomed prominent conservative social media provocateurs to the White House for a so-called social media summit.

He told the gathering his administration was looking into regulations and legislation that could protect free speech - though he did not provide details on what measures were being discussed.

“We’re not going to be silenced,” Trump said, complaining about fluctuations in the number of his Twitter followers. “Big tech must not censor the voices."