Trump plans to sign an executive order 'pertaining to social media' on Thursday, shortly after he accused Twitter of squashing free speech

tsonnemaker@businessinsider.com (Tyler Sonnemaker)
President Donald Trump.

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  • The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, has said President Donald Trump plans to issue an executive order "pertaining to social media," several White House reporters aboard Air Force One tweeted on Wednesday.

  • McEnany gave no details about what Trump's order would do but said it would be signed Thursday, according to Yamiche Alcindor, the "PBS NewsHour" White House correspondent.

  • The Washington Post reported that the order might encourage federal agencies to investigate tech companies' moderation policies and narrow Section 230, which shields them from legal liability for content published on their platforms.

  • A law professor tweeted that she had obtained a draft of the order, saying it would argue that fact-checking is "editorial" speech and thus isn't protected under Section 230.

  • Legal experts have expressed doubt that Trump has the legal authority to regulate social-media companies in the way he has threatened, citing free-speech protections.

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President Donald Trump is planning to issue an executive order Thursday "pertaining to social media," according to several White House reporters who were briefed aboard Air Force One on Wednesday evening.

The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, offered no details about what the directive might include, but The Washington Post reported that it could empower various federal agencies to penalize social-media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google for their content-moderation practices.

Related: 6 Times Trump Contradicted Coronavirus Public Officials

Two officials familiar with the order told the paper the directive would task the US Commerce Department with asking the Federal Communications Commission to look at narrowing the scope of Section 230, a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that shields internet companies from legal liability for content published on their sites and gives them broad power to moderate that content.

The sources also told The Post that the order could funnel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission, which could then investigate social-media companies' content-moderation practices and require federal agencies to conduct a review of their social-media advertising spending.

Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John's University who is a fellow at Yale University' Information Society Project, tweeted late Wednesday that she had obtained a draft of the order. She said the order might argue that fact-checking falls under "editorial conduct" and therefore isn't protected under Section 230.

Klonick also said the order could also prohibit federal agencies from advertising on platforms that violate the editorial conduct provision of Section 230.

Earlier this week, Twitter for the first time applied a fact-checking label to some of Trump's tweets.

Twitter added a link with the text "Get the facts about mail-in ballots" below two tweets in which Trump falsely claimed vote-by-mail ballots were linked to fraud. The link took users to a page where fact-checkers had debunked Trump's claims.

Trump ranted against Twitter's decision in a series of tweets, accusing the company of "interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election" and "completely stifling FREE SPEECH."

Following reports of Trump's planned executive order, Twitter responded by saying Trump had violated its policy against "manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes," which "includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process."

"We added a label to two @realDonaldTrump Tweets about California's vote-by-mail plans as part of our efforts to enforce our civic integrity policy. We believe those Tweets could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process," the company said in a tweet Wednesday evening.

It's not the first time the Trump administration has threatened legal action against social-media companies that make decisions the president disagrees with.

Last year, the White House drafted a proposal aimed at penalizing platforms accused of bias against conservatives — conservatives have frequently raised such accusations but have yet to provide evidence to support them. Earlier Wednesday, a federal judge tossed a lawsuit that claimed Twitter, Facebook, Apple, and Google conspired to suppress conservative views online, Bloomberg reported.

It's also likely that Trump doesn't have the legal grounds to issue such regulations, according to multiple experts who told Insider the First Amendment, Section 230, and other legal protections gave private companies broad rights around regulating content on their platforms.

Trump's order, however, could still drag social-media companies into a fight over Section 230 that they've been desperately trying to avoid. The legal shield it provides, which was instrumental in the development of the modern internet, has become a hotly debated issue in recent years from both sides of the aisle.

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