Trump signs executive order to strip social media giants' legal exemptions, claiming political bias

'We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers,' Trump said.

Updated: May 28, 2020 - 5:35pm

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President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order seeking to punish tech giants for what he claims is politically motivated bias that restricts freedom of speech.

The order targets tech firms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter by questioning protections the firms currently enjoy shielding their social media platforms from liability over user-generated content.

The order asks the Federal Communications Commission to examine regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — to look at whether technology platforms' actions to remove, edit or supplement users' content should mean they relinquish their exemption from liability.

“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers,” Trump said, referring to a tech "monopoly" that has "had unchecked power” to censor and restrict human interaction.

“We can't allow that to happen," he said, arguing tech companies have “points of view."

Joined by Attorney General William Barr in the Oval Office, Trump said Democrats are also saying that "this is about time something is done."

Trump on Wednesday said that he will “strongly regulate” or even “close down” social media platforms, one day after Twitter flagged two of his posts.

The president made the vow on Twitter after the social media platform added a message to the tweets that linked to a page disputing the accuracy of his posts.

Trump and other conservatives argue that social media is censoring or silencing their messages.

In the two flagged tweets, Trump warned that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud, particularly in California. 

At his signing ceremony on Thursday, Trump said that Twitter is acting as an editor "with a viewpoint," saying the Twitter "fact-check" amounts to "political activism."

The president noted that tech platforms have more reach than newspapers and other media.

Trump predicted the action would face a lawsuit, which is why he prefers legislation.

"We’re fed up with it," Trump said. "I guess it’s going to be challenged in court, but what isn’t?"

When asked why not delete his Twitter account, Trump said, "The news is fake."

"If we had fair press in this country I would do that in a heartbeat."

Barr said tech companies are acting as "publishers" after amassing huge power. He said the executive order would return section 230 to its intended scope and that the executive branch would draft legislation for Congress to address "a bit of a bait and switch that’s occurred in our society," he said, referring to networks that were supposed to be free forums but are now exercising their discretion over user-generated content in various ways.

Barr also said he will will work with states to form their own regulations to ensure that tax dollars don't go to companies that suppress free speech.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany took aim at Twitter Thursday during a White House press briefing.

“I believe it is time to ‘give the facts’ about Twitter and other social media platforms targeting their bias against President Trump and conservatives online,” McEnany said. “If we were to judge the bias of Twitter and its top employees by their own words, the case would be an easy one to make.”

“Twitter’s head of site integrity has tweeted that there are ‘actual Nazis in the White House,’ and no fact check label was ever applied to this absolutely outrageous, offensive, and false claim made against the White House and its employees,” she continued. “But let’s judge Twitter based on their actions, not based on the words of its top employees, and its actions are no better. President Trump recently received a so-called ‘fact check’ label for a tweet. It was a false fact check, an inaccurate fact check, but nevertheless, Twitter moved forward with it.”

“Dan Scavino, the deputy chief of staff here, was the first user in the history of Twitter to receive a so-called ‘manipulated media label’ for posting a video that played a verbatim clip,” McEnany continued. “It is no coincidence that these two unbelievable interventions by Twitter were targeted against the president of the United States and one of the president’s top advisors. This is bias in action.”

McEnany also said Twitter failed to apply fact-check labels to “disinformation” from Chinese officials.

“While Big Tech is quick to censor the president, quick to censor some of his top employees, they are very reluctant, it seems, to label some of the actions by Chinese officials, some of the misinformation that has been spread by China,” she said. “For example, to move off of Twitter and move to Google, they created a search engine for the Chinese Communist Party which blacklisted searches for human rights and allowed for easy surveillance. Facebook and Twitter have both taken paid advertising that spread disinformation about China’s mass imprisonment of religious minorities, and Twitter has allowed Chinese officials to use its platform to spread misinformation about the coronavirus, undermine the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and more.”