• The Financial District


US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that seeks to strip social media companies of legal immunity, an act that his critics tagged immediately as an assault of Twitter and an act of “political revenge,” as Sebastian Smith of Agence France Presse (AFP) wrote on May 29, 2020.

The executive order calls on government regulators like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to evaluate if online platforms should be eligible for liability protection for content posted by their millions of users and if regulators follow Trump’s legally wobbly position, Twitter, Facebook and other social media could be labeled as “publishers” liable for abuses of users like Trump himself, who could be sued for insulting his enemies and news outlets on Twitter and for promoting false claims like the one insisting that mail-in votes are fraudulent.

Critics claimed Trump has no authority to regulate private internet operators or change the law known as Section 230, which backers say has allowed online platforms like Facebook and Twitter to flourish. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called Trump's order "a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president." Eric Goldman, director of the High-Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, said the order was "more about political theater than about changing the law." He added the order "is not legally supportable -- it flies in the face of more than 900 court decisions."

"The First Amendment protects Twitter from Trump -- not Trump from Twitter," says Ashkhen Kazaryan of the think tank Tech Freedom. Law professors Laurence Tribe and Joshua Geltzer, writing in The Washington Post, say that by seeking to regulate content online, "Trump is already committing the very violation of which he's accusing Twitter." "(Trump) is trying to steal for himself the power of the courts and Congress to rewrite decades of settled law," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the architect of the legislation that the order seeks to reinterpret, told CNN. "He decides what's legal based on what's in his interest."