Tech-rights group sues Trump to stop social media executive order

Technology

FILE – This April 26, 2017, file photo shows the Twitter app icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today. Those are the words President Donald Trump challenged in an executive order Thursday, May 28, 2020 one that would strip those protections if those companies engaged in “editorial decisions” — like, for instance, adding a fact-check warning to one of Trump’s tweets. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A tech-focused civil liberties group on Tuesday sued to block Pres. Donald Trump’s executive order regulating social media, saying it violates the First Amendment and chills speech.

Trump’s order, signed last week, could allow more lawsuits against internet companies like Twitter and Facebook over their users’ posts, tweets, and streams.

The order was more political than substantive, with many experts questioning its constitutionality. The president aimed to rally his supporters after Twitter put fact checks on two of his tweets deriding mail-in ballots. Trump, without evidence, has long accused tech companies of being biased against conservatives.

The order targets current law—you may have heard recent references to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—that protects internet companies from lawsuits. They can’t be sued for hosting videos and posts from users, or for moderating their services, with some exceptions.

In its suit, the Center for Democracy and Technology said that Trump’s executive order violates the First Amendment by attacking Twitter for fact-checking the president’s tweets. CDT says that, as a private company, it is Twitter’s right to moderate users on its platform. More broadly, the order is trying to curb speech of all online platforms and people “by demonstrating the willingness to use government authority to retaliate against those who criticize the government,” CDT says.

“The government cannot and should not force online intermediaries into moderating speech according to the president’s whims,” said Alexandra Givens, CDT’s CEO, in an emailed statement. The organization filed the federal suit in District Court for the District of Columbia.

There was immediate pushback against Trump’s order from many sources. Tech industry groups, unsurprisingly, said it was bad for innovation and speech. Civil rights and libertarian organizations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also criticized Trump’s order.

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