President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order to crack down on what he described was censorship by social media sites after Twitter added fact-checking labels to several of his posts. The move comes after years of Congressional and Senate hearings in which both Democrats and Republicans had harsh words for the social platforms and how they handle free speech.
In a signing event, Trump said the action is designed “to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers” while adding that Twitter, Facebook, and Google have “unchecked power.”
The order would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create regulation that could exempt social media websites from protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The order would also prohibit federal agencies from spending advertising dollars on platforms that violate the First Amendment.
“We are fed up with it,” Trump said of social media companies enforcing a “viewpoint,” echoing claims from other conservatives that social media firms have an anti-conservative bias and regularly deplatform or censor them.
Attorney General William Barr, who was at the signing event alongside Trump, told reporters that the Justice Department would also move to sue social media companies.
Earlier this week, Twitter for the first time added warning links to two of the president’s comments and invited readers to “get the facts” after Trump made claims about mail-in-voting leading to voter fraud. A Twitter page said he “falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election.’”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters at a news briefing that the executive order could be released on Thursday.
She told Reuters that Section 230 is one of the shields that protect social media companies.
“We’re looking at ways to remove those shields to shed some light on what is happening (with) some of the decision-making behind the scenes,” she said.
The labels, however, drew rebuke from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who said privately-owned social media platforms should not act as an “arbiter of truth.”
“We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this,” Zuckerberg told Fox News. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he added. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
In response to Trump’s comments, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the firm is not attempting to become an “arbiter of truth.”
“Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,” Dorsey wrote on Twitter on Wednesday night. “More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”