Update (0850ET): Fox Business has just confirmed that President Trump plans to sign an executive order to implement everything we’ve discussed below.
FOX Business Network confirms that the President Trump is considering an Executive Order regarding social media companies. The EO would examine the legal protections that social media companies enjoy. #SocialMedia
— Edward Lawrence (@EdwardLawrence) May 28, 2020
Fox reporter Edward Lawrence claims that the order will “examine the legal protections” enjoyed by these companies, suggesting that the administration will also lay out its legal rationale for regulating speech on these platforms in this way.
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Update (0840ET): Just as we expected, President Trump just confirmed that he will be rolling out his administration’s agenda for regulating speech on American social media platforms on Thursday – and will probably make a show of it, to keep the news media focused on his latest culture war, and less about the growing coronavirus death toll.
This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
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The first leaks detailing the Trump Administration’s plan to iron out left-wing bias on American social-media platforms have just arrived.
During a live on-air report, CNBC’s Ylan Mui shared what appeared to be the first details of the White House’s plan, which the president said would be released on Thursday. According to Mui, the White House plans to empower the FCC to write guidelines for American social media companies to help them determine what content should and shouldn’t be removed.
Notably, the plan relies on the executive branch’s nearly untrammeled power over the vast federal bureaucracy: Once again, Trump plans to bypass Congress – which has long been reluctant to make any changes to the 1996 Communications Decency Act to account for the advent of social media – to accomplish what has become a critical piece of his agenda ahead of the November election.
“We cannot allow a handful of online platforms to handpick and censor the speech Americans read online,” an anonymous administration official told Mui. “[Social media giants] possess a dangerous power.”
There will be a review process before the rules can be implemented, and it’s possible they may never be enacted.
And as Mui pointed out, companies face newfound political uncertainty as regulating speech on these platforms becomes a “political football”.
According to CNBC, the draft text of the order mentioned two companies by name: Twitter and Facebook. Shares of both companies tumbled in pre-market trade on the news.
For what it’s worth, a report published last night claimed that the White House didn’t consult the FCC on these new guidelines.
NEW: The White House did not consult the FCC on a forthcoming executive order pertaining to social media companies, according to a person briefed on the matter.
This suggests the draft order has not gone through the normal interagency review process.
— Brian Fung (@b_fung) May 27, 2020
Though we doubt Commissioner Ajit Pai will have any serious objections to the plan.
Finally, it appears the Executive order does not quite go as far as to call for direct reversals of Section 230 protections… though handing it over to the FCC may well be the warning shot across the social media giants’ bows that they need. As Jonathan Turley noted:
The expectation is that the Trump executive order on social media will include a review of Section 230 of the Federal Communications Act for the possible elimination of protections for Twitter and other social media companies. The effort would be hard to succeed without congressional action. As a private actor, Twitter is not the subject of the First Amendment but the President and his administration are. There are also separation of powers concerns with any unilateral or constructive amendment of Section 230.
Trump in my view is right in condemning the action of Twitter. The focus should be on the company’s assault on free speech principles. Anyone who values free speech on the Internet and social media should be appalled by this action regardless of their feelings about Pres. Trump.