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Trump move could scrap or weaken law that protects social media companies

Stock MarketsMay 28, 2020 10:51PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. U.S. President Trump hosts Rose Garden event on treating diabetes at the White House during coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington 2/2

By Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said he will introduce legislation that may scrap or weaken a law that has protected internet companies, including Twitter and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), in an extraordinary attempt to regulate social media platforms where he has been criticized.

The proposed legislation is part of an executive order Trump signed on Thursday afternoon. Trump had attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.

Trump wants to "remove or change" a provision of a law known as Section 230 that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users.

Trump said U.S. Attorney General William Barr will begin drafting legislation "immediately" to regulate social media companies.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported the White House's plan to modify Section 230 based on a copy of a draft executive order that experts said was unlikely to survive legal scrutiny. The final version of the order released on Thursday had no major changes except the proposal for a federal legislation.

"What I think we can say is we're going to regulate it," Trump said before the signing of the order.

"I've been called by Democrats that want to do this, so I think you could possibly have a bipartisan situation," said Republican Trump, who is running for re-election in November.

Twitter called the order "a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law" and said attempts to weaken Section 230 would "threaten the future of online speech."

A Google spokeswoman said the order would harm "America's economy," while a Facebook spokesman said it would "encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone."

The order, as written, attempts to circumvent Congress and the courts in directing changes to long-established interpretations of Section 230. It represents his latest attempt to use the tools of the presidency to force private companies to change policies that he believes are not favorable to him.

"In terms of presidential efforts to limit critical commentary about themselves, I think one would have to go back to the Sedition Act of 1798 - which made it illegal to say false things about the president and certain other public officials - to find an attack supposedly rooted in law by a president on any entity which comments or prints comments about public issues and public people," said First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams.

Jack Balkin, a Yale University constitutional law professor, said "the president is trying to frighten, coerce, scare, cajole social media companies to leave him alone and not do what Twitter has just done to him."

Twitter's shares ended over 4 percent down on Thursday. Facebook ended down 1.6 percent and Google parent Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Inc finished slightly up.

Trump, who uses Twitter virtually every day to promote his policies and insult his opponents, has long claimed without evidence that the site is biased in favor of Democrats. He and his supporters have leveled the same unsubstantiated charges against Facebook, which Trump's presidential campaign uses heavily as an advertising vehicle.

On Thursday, Trump said there is nothing he would rather do than get rid of his Twitter account but he had to keep it in order to circumvent the press and get his version of events to millions of followers.

He took to Twitter again Thursday night to cast doubt around voting by mail, tweeting the practice would lead to "MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE" and "THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY."

The protections of Section 230 have been under fire for different reasons from lawmakers including Big Tech critic Senator Josh Hawley. Critics argue that they give internet companies a free pass on things like hate speech and content that supports terror organizations.

Social media companies have been under pressure from many quarters, both in the United States and other countries, to better control misinformation and harmful content on their services.

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said on the company's website late Wednesday that the president's tweets "may mislead people into thinking they don't need to register to get a ballot. Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves."

After labeling Trump's tweets, Twitter continued to add fact-checking and 'manipulated media' labels on hundreds of other tweets.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump's planned order "outrageous" and a "distraction" from the coronavirus crisis.

Under the order, the Commerce Department has 60 days to petition the FCC to adopt new rules and then the agency will review the petition. It could take anywhere from 12 to 24 months for the FCC to propose and adopt final rules.

Federal spending on online advertising will also be reviewed by U.S. government agencies to ensure there are no speech restrictions by a company.

Trump move could scrap or weaken law that protects social media companies
 

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Comments (20)
Samantha Solomon
SamanthaS May 29, 2020 1:51AM ET
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A lot of confusion here because non-government entities can legally impose restrictions that government cannot.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun May 29, 2020 12:32AM ET
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Lawsuit against them were tossed out because they r just a platform for people to express themselves. Trump is “telling” judges dont toss out anymore.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun May 29, 2020 12:29AM ET
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We dont need the police for our adult convo. Silence the oposition, even if they r wrong, violate our freedom of speech. A threat is not freedom of speech.
Silverbug 19
Silverbug 19 May 29, 2020 12:09AM ET
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Finally these behemoths are taken down.
Chris Mallory
Chris Mallory May 29, 2020 12:01AM ET
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Twitter Stock is about half of what it use to be. Just fools in basement with 100 accounts each.
Pratt Man
Pratt Man May 28, 2020 11:35PM ET
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so this will essentially prevent Trump from using Twitter. I'm all for it.
Kathie ILL
Kass1212 May 28, 2020 11:35PM ET
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Notice how when the markets decline, it's President's Trump fault.  When the economy and the market is bullish, he doesn't get credit.  And where did Twitter get their so-called "facts".  Wake up, people!!
Pratt Man
Pratt Man May 28, 2020 11:33PM ET
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just more regulation from the king of regulation
Kwong To
Kwong To May 28, 2020 11:33PM ET
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Modern day tyranny and dictatorship under the guise of making America great again.
Pratt Man
Pratt Man May 28, 2020 11:32PM ET
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so I can sue Twitter for the lies Trump makes?
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun May 28, 2020 11:32PM ET
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No, u can sue them if u tell u that u lie. In this case, Trump can sue them.
Jim Robertson
Jim Robertson May 28, 2020 7:47PM ET
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I was banned from Twitter because I stated that Obama is a racist when he bragged about illegal immigration was "turning America brown". Twitter should be held accountable or stop banning people for speaking the truth. Obama is a liar and a racist.
Pratt Man
Pratt Man May 28, 2020 7:47PM ET
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they have that right. you should have been
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun May 28, 2020 7:47PM ET
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One man truth is another man lie.
David David
David9 May 28, 2020 4:45PM ET
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Keep this up and our Social Media companies will move overseas.
Jim Robertson
Jim Robertson May 28, 2020 4:45PM ET
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That won't stop them from respecting our kaws.
Jim Robertson
Jim Robertson May 28, 2020 4:45PM ET
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Laws that is.
Vincent TT
Vincent TT May 28, 2020 4:45PM ET
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We’ll be like china soon. Eat propaganda for breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Al Vlaj
alvlaj May 28, 2020 4:31PM ET
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Trump was probably like “wait... This law is more than two pages. Is there a movie version of the law i could review?”...
Diddl One
Diddl One May 28, 2020 2:52PM ET
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Seems like this platform is already censoring as well. Just need to disagree with mainstream media and your comments have as much chance to get posted as Hilary having to become President EVER.
Thom Miller
Thom Miller May 28, 2020 10:19AM ET
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Let’s see here.....Dr Donny obviously stands for BIG Government and socialism, contrary to two of the most basic GOP principles: largest Federal deficit in US history, largest Federal bailout in US history, and now First Amendment overreach with social media. And when you throw in how he totally botched his Covid-19 response, well, he’s toast. Toast, you say? I’ll drink to that!
Mi Sha
Mi Sha May 28, 2020 10:13AM ET
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Social platforms move should to completely remove any and all political content by politicians from the platforms, do not allow it. No more Trump, no more Ilan Omar on Twitter. Fair.
Thom Miller
Thom Miller May 28, 2020 10:13AM ET
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In this country we don’t censor, but we do call out people for saying things that aren’t at all true. Right, Dr Donny? Right!
Sean Livingstone
Sean Livingstone May 28, 2020 9:19AM ET
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You tell me if it's OK for a standing president to tell voters not to register for ballot.
Golden Berg
goldenberg May 28, 2020 9:16AM ET
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Good. It's like criminal running the prison. All these companies are promote far left ideology and threaten free speech.
Carol Baskin
Carol Baskin May 28, 2020 9:16AM ET
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Ok boomer
Bilbo Biggun
Bilbo Biggun May 28, 2020 9:14AM ET
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Government will do what governement does best: make a bad situation worse.
John Kelley
John Kelley May 28, 2020 9:14AM ET
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Dictator Trump
Jozef Drozd
Jozef Drozd May 28, 2020 9:13AM ET
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I want my free speech not censorship by social media !!!!!!!!!
Benjamin Tallman
Benjamin Tallman May 28, 2020 3:25AM ET
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Remeber 2016 when they worked in his favor. Quite the reversal Petulant POTUS!!
Vlad Lozovskiy
Vlad Lozovskiy May 28, 2020 3:25AM ET
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they did not work in his favor.
 
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