President Trump may have chosen a particularly bad time to hit out at social media companies, what with the virus spreading all over the place and the economy in shambles. The last thing we need about now is somebody trying to make things more difficult for perfectly functional companies. Companies that have stood up to the challenge thrown up by the virus, disseminating useful information, flushing out fake news (after some initial stumbles when we heard that people were consuming chemicals and other stuff somebody happened to recommend) and instituting fact checkers that have done some genuinely good work.
It’s a different story that people naturally have their biases, whether leaning left or right, and this is likely to reflect on their output. So while Trump’s Twitter (TWTR - Free Report) tirades have become something of an embarrassment for many, his executive order may deal with something less frivolous.
According to law professor Kate Klonick, who tweeted that she’d been sent a copy anonymously, the order will be on the issue of labeling by social media companies, which will be treated as editorial conduct, thus losing Section 230 protection.
Section 230 is that part of the Communication Decency Act of 1996 that declares that "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." So effectively, social media platforms like Facebook (FB - Free Report) , Twitter and Alphabet’s (GOOGL - Free Report) YouTube are protected from legal action if any user posts objectionable content.
Presumably, the order seeks to ban government advertising on these “public square”-like sites that don’t adhere to editing protocols, and enlists the FTC and state Attorney Generals to see if they have acted deceptively or unfairly.
If that’s there all is to it, there’s unlikely to be much of a legal problem because the order will of course be challenged and everything will have to be investigated, which will take time. Additionally, as regards the pullback on government spending on these platforms, it just doesn’t sound like such a good idea given that elections are around the corner.
So the way I see it, there isn’t much to be concerned about at all.
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