Social media giants, Twitter in particular, are continuing to implement their policy around what they consider coronavirus disinformation often as a way to sustain their clash with US President Donald Trump.
But he’s at least signalling some action this week.
Once again, the focus is on the contentious legislation that Trump believes allows these platforms to censor political opponents without any repercussion – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).
But tech and social media behemoths are very eager to hold on to the privileges and protections this law passed in 1996 gives to them. Expectedly, industry associations, but also some digital, legal and activist groups support Google, Facebook, and others in this.
They also question if an executive order Trump signed back in May, dealing with Section 230, is actually enforceable. But the petition that the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration yesterday submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is based precisely on this order.
The document claims that the giants are abusing the privilege afforded them by Section 230 in order to censor and manipulate content they don’t like.
We obtained a copy of the petition for you here.
“It has long been the policy of the United States to foster a robust marketplace of ideas on the Internet and the free flow of information around the world,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement. “President Trump is committed to protecting the rights of all Americans to express their views and not face unjustified restrictions or selective censorship from a handful of powerful companies.”
Trump also observed that the legislation they rely on for protection and “unchecked power” is now obsolete, since the digital world and the influence and might of some of its biggest players today cannot be compared to the online landscape in 1996.
And while conservatives say that social media platforms are violating their right to free speech, their political opponents are exerting pressure, especially on Facebook, to introduce even more censorship, particularly around what they see as hate speech and misinformation.
The petition the Commerce Department has now filed with the FCC states that the dominant position of social media represents a challenge to free speech in the US, i.e., to protections stemming from the First Amendment. The FCC, a majority of whose members are Republicans, said it would review the petition carefully.
If Trump’s ideas are accepted, legal protection from lawsuits enjoyed by tech companies acting in poorly defined “good faith” could be brought into question, perhaps allowing users to file lawsuits over censored and removed content.