The law is controversial. It gives technology companies the freedom to monitor their platforms for abuse without fear of lawsuits. Critics say, however, that these exceptions have allowed some of Silicon Valley’s most profitable companies to avoid responsibility for the harmful content that thrives on their online platforms, including hate speech, terrorist propaganda, and election lies.
The order would cause federal officials to open a process to reconsider the scope of the law, the people familiar with the document said. A change could potentially have dramatic freedom of speech and far-reaching consequences for a wide range of companies that rely on doing business online.
The ordinance would also attempt to forward political bias complaints to the Federal Trade Commission to verify that technology company content moderation policies are in line with their promises of neutrality. According to those familiar with the White House thinking, federal agencies should also review their spending on social media advertising.
“In a country where freedom of expression has long been valued, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to manually select the speech that Americans can access and transmit online,”
The wide-ranging order comes two days after Twitter took the rare step of tagging one of the President’s tweets and linking viewers to news articles reviewing his claims. The move infuriated Trump and his followers, who quickly beat up Twitter and his Silicon Valley colleagues for censoring and showing political prejudice. The companies have long denied these allegations.
The executive order has gone through several iterations in recent years and it could change, people said. The order would mandate the Department of Commerce to petition the Federal Communications Commission to initiate Section 230 proceedings.
Even so, it would be up to the FCC and the FTC, two independent agencies operating outside the President’s cabinet, to determine the exact procedures once Trump signs them.
The order marks the White House’s most significant salvo against Silicon Valley after years of verbal broadside and regulatory threats from Trump and his top MPs. It can also raise new, sensitive questions about the first change, the future of online expression, and the extent to which the White House can adequately and legally influence private companies’ decisions about their apps, websites, and services.
The White House declined to comment. A White House spokesman told reporters on Wednesday that the president would sign an executive ordinance “on social media” on Thursday without further details.
Trump later accused later that evening that the tech industry was trying to “censor” conservatives’ approach to the 2020 elections.
Big Tech is doing everything in its power before the 2020 election. In this case we have no freedom. I will never let it happen! You tried very hard and lost in 2016. Now they are absolutely CRAZY. Stay tuned!!!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
The FCC and FTC did not immediately respond to requests for comments. Facebook had no immediate comment. Twitter declined to comment, as did YouTube, which is part of Google’s owner Alphabet.
Trump is one of the most productive and influential users of social media. He has a Twitter account that reaches more than 80 million people and a campaign war chest that has made the president one of the most popular advertisers on Facebook and Google. But it is also one of the most controversial voices on the Internet. Previously, he shared and tweeted posts, photos, and videos that appear to violate the policies of large technology companies, that prohibit, or prevent, harmful, abusive, or incorrect content.
Twitter, in particular, largely allowed Trump to fully share his views anyway for years, saying that even his most controversial tweets are in the public interest. A violent setback eventually forced Twitter to rethink its hands-off approach, culminating in the company’s first attempt on Tuesday to mark the president’s tweets on postal ballot papers.
Trump replied by claiming that large social media companies were biased and in response threatened to “tightly regulate or shut them down.”
As of this week, Trump had only made threats to regulate or punish Google’s Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter on a number of allegations, and even pointed out at one point that the industry was trying to undermine his choice. Before that, however, the White House withdrew and even put back earlier versions of its executive order for social media companies.
In July, the President convened a “social media summit” at the White House, attended by GOP lawmakers and Republican strategists. At the time, this event was considered the forerunner for further measures. The event was sharply criticized by digital experts and Congress Democrats, who said Trump used the White House background to tolerate some of his supporters’ most provocative and controversial online tactics.
In the same month, the Department of Justice opened a comprehensive review of the technology industry, which has since developed into a full investigation of Section 230. Attorney General William P. Barr has repeatedly raised the possibility that the US government could seek changes to the rules. “Tech companies are no longer the outsider,” Barr said in a speech in February, reflecting on the origins of the statute. “They have become titans.”
Republican lawmakers also say Facebook, Google and Twitter should be held accountable for perceived political bias, a call repeated by White House officials.
Meanwhile, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg waged a public battle for content censorship late Wednesday.
Zuckerberg appeared in Fox News and said he did not believe that digital platforms should act as “arbitrators of the truth about everything people say online”.
Later that night, Dorsey hit back on Zuckerberg in a series of tweets, saying that Twitter would continue to point to incorrect or controversial information about elections worldwide.
But he added, “This doesn’t make us an” arbiter of truth. “
Elizabeth Dwoskin contributed to this report.