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Trump ‘order’ to target social media

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Trump ‘order’ to target social media

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Details and implications of the order.

 Context: President Trump has signed an executive order targeting legal protections that keep people from suing social media websites.

The order would make it easier for federal regulators to argue that the companies are “suppressing free speech when they move to suspend users or delete posts.”

 What’s the issue?

The move follows his anger at Twitter over its decision this week to append fact-check labels to several of his tweets about mail-in voting, along with links to accurate information on the topic.

Twitter’s move to tag the President’s tweets comes after years of being accused of ignoring the President’s violation of platform rules with his daily tweets.

What protects social media companies?

A 1996 law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, essentially bars people from suing providers of an “interactive computer service” for libel if users post defamatory messages on their platforms.

It says intermediary website operators — a category ranging from social media giants like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to blogs that let readers post comments — will not be treated as the publisher or the speaker for making others’ posts available.

A related provision also protects the sites from lawsuits accusing them of wrongfully taking down content. It gives them immunity for “good faith” decisions to remove or restrict posts they deem “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”

How does the executive order target this shield?

By putting forward a vision for an exception to websites’ legal immunity. The order argues that if a site restricts access to others’ content in bad faith and goes beyond removing the types of objectionable content detailed in the law, it should be deemed a publisher rather than a neutral platform — thus losing its legal immunity from lawsuits.

What next?

If this vision were the law, it would mean that social media companies could be sued for defamatory content over what other people post on their platforms.

Even under the executive order’s vision of the law, such lawsuits might fail: A court would first have to decide that the social media firm had sufficiently engaged in enough editorial conduct to lose its immunity.

But the order could discourage such companies from taking an active role in curating the content on their platforms — and raise the risk and cost of doing business.

Sources: the Hindu.