The Trump administration may be preparing to implement rules to combat what it perceives to be a left-wing bias among tech companies that would affect the content distributed on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The White House reportedly has been drafting an executive order, “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship,” that would ask the Federal Communications Commission to develop regulations around how tech platforms take down or suppress content. The draft is said to call on the Federal Trade Commission to apply these new rules in any investigations or lawsuits of these companies.
There is widespread belief in the US conservative community that these platforms exhibit an “anti-conservative bias.” While some prominent right-wing voices have been “de-platformed”—like Alex Jones of Infowars, who was banned from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—there is basically no evidence of systematic ideological bias. Claims like those in Donald Trump’s now-deleted tweets that say, for example, Google is promoting “negative stories on Donald Trump” and that this is “illegal” have no factual basis. (The platforms do, however, appear to be biased toward extremity.)
Even so, the Trump administration appears to believe this theory. Earlier this year, it launched a website that asked users to share self-reported cases of having been censored, saying that it was “fighting for free speech online.” At the White House’s “social media summit” last month, Trump proclaimed that he would pursue “all regulatory and legislative solutions.” The draft order seems to be a first stab.
According to CNN, the proposal “seeks to significantly narrow the protections afforded to companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.” In particular, it aims at eroding the “broad legal immunity” these companies enjoy when they remove content.
Free-speech advocacy groups were quick to condemn the intent:
If this accurately reflects resulting EO, it's an anti-American edict that would empower FCC & FTC to be viewpoint-based arbiters of online speech. Thankfully, 1st Amendment forbids that. It's regrettable that this Administration doesn't seem to know that. https://t.co/uKNqE6UKD4
— PEN America (@PENamerica) August 9, 2019
The details could well change, but discussion of the draft is a sign Trump is trying to bring more of his executive power to bear on tech companies.
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