Reactions to President Trump's Executive Order on Section 230

On May 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order cracking down on "censorship" by social media sites. Here's the reaction.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “Allowing the proliferation of disinformation is extremely dangerous, particularly as our nation faces the deadliest pandemic in history.  Clearly and sadly, the President’s Executive Order is a desperate distraction from his failure to provide a national testing strategy to defeat COVID-19.  As we pray for the families of the 100,000 who have tragically lost their lives, we must focus all our energy on protecting lives and livelihoods, starting with making The Heroes Act law. The President’s Executive Order does nothing to address big Internet companies’ complete failure to fight the spread of disinformation.  Instead, the President is encouraging Facebook and other social media giants to continue to exploit and profit off falsehoods with total impunity – while at the same time directing the federal government to dismantle efforts to help users distinguish fact from fiction. Again and again, social media platforms have sold out the public interest to pad their corporate profits.  Their business model is to make money at the expense of the truth.  Recently, rather than removing lucrative campaign ads, which contain debunked falsehoods, Facebook changed its rules to ensure that it can continue to allow and profit off these lies. While Twitter’s decision to put up fact checks of the President is an important first step to protecting the integrity of our elections, much more must be done to ensure that fact-checks are applied fairly and across all platforms.”  

House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL):  “With this Executive Order, the President is lashing out to punish social media platforms that are seeking to stop the dissemination of misinformation.  His actions pose a clear and present threat to our democracy, far beyond his usual rantings.  Online platforms should enforce their codes of conduct to combat disinformation, even when it is spread by right wing extremists and the President himself, but the President has made clear he wants the internet to cower in fear.  This retribution is a perfect example of how authoritarian governments, like the Chinese, silence free speech, and the result will be the continued growth of misinformation, hate speech and tribalism online and in our communities. We will be watching the FTC and FCC, both independent agencies created by Congress, as well as social media platforms to ensure they are acting in the American people’s best interest and not simply appeasing a self-aggrandizing bully.”

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR): “I have warned for years that this administration was threatening 230 in order to chill speech and bully companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter into giving him favorable treatment. Today Trump proved me right. I expect those companies, and every American who participates in online speech, to resist this illegal act by all possible means. Giving in to bullying by this president may be the single most unpatriotic act an American could undertake. Donald Trump’s order is plainly illegal. After driving our country into an economic and health care disaster, Trump is desperately trying to steal for himself the power of the courts and Congress to rewrite decades of settled law around Section 230. All for the ability to spread unfiltered lies. Donald Trump’s misinformation campaigns have left death and destruction in their wake. He’s clearly targeting Section 230 because it protects private businesses' right not to have to play host to his lies. As the co-author of Section 230, let me make this clear – there is nothing in the law about political neutrality. It does not say companies like Twitter are forced to carry misinformation about voting, especially from the president. Efforts to erode Section 230 will only make online content more likely to be false and dangerous.Protecting expression that resists the tyranny of those in power is the very foundation of the First Amendment. Section 230 does not prevent Internet companies from moderating offensive or false content. And it does not change the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX):  "This executive order is an important acknowledgement that we can no longer afford to let Big Tech go unchecked. For too long, social media platforms like Twitter have hid behind their opaque algorithms and Section 230 immunity to target speech with which they disagree and advance their own political agendas. This doesn't just stifle Americans' free speech; it shapes what Americans see, hear, and ultimately think about the major issues facing our country, including how those issues should be addressed and who should be elected to address them. I have long warned that, left unchecked, Big Tech is the greatest threat facing our democracy, and I have led the fight in the Senate to expose Big Tech's pattern of political bias and hold these companies accountable to the American people. I will continue to work with my colleagues and the Trump administration to do just that."

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) via Twitter: “Gotta remember that key to #BigTech dominance/monopoly is advertising, and how they have manipulated [section 230] to create behavioral advertising machine.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: “This does not work. Social media can be frustrating. But an Executive Order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the President’s speech police is not the answer. It’s time for those in Washington to speak up for the First Amendment. History won’t be kind to silence.”

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks: “I’ll review the final Executive Order when it’s released and assess its impact on the FCC, but one thing is clear: the First Amendment and Section 230 remain the law of the land and control here. Our top priority should be connecting all Americans to highquality, affordable broadband. The fight against COVID-19 has made closing the digital divide—and helping all Americans access education, work, and healthcare online—more critical than ever. We must keep our focus on that essential work.”

Asked about the executive order, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told Yahoo! Finance that "Twitter paid apologists are putting out a lot of misinformation" on the issue. He said "bad faith" takedowns are not protected and it makes sense to let the public weigh in and say "is that really what Congress meant when they provided those special [Sec. 230] protections."

FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said that the president “has right to seek review of statute’s application. As a conservative, I’m troubled voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders. At same time, I’m extremely dedicated to First Amendment which governs much here.”

Chris Lewis, President and CEO of Public Knowledge: “The President does not have the power to rewrite the law, as this Executive Order attempts to do. Section 230 grants platforms the freedom to make editorial choices with respect to content posted by users — including senators and the President of the United States — according to the plain text of the statute, congressional intent, and every court decision on this matter.  Along with the First Amendment itself, Section 230 gives platforms like Twitter the ability to adopt specific points of view and to make the kinds of editorial choices that Twitter has made. At the same time, Section 230 only shields platforms from liability for user-posted content, not content the platform itself creates Anyone who disagrees with choices popular platforms make should support policies designed to empower users and increase competition — not unconstitutional policies designed to regulate speech and reduce the ability of platforms to remove or restrict access to content they find objectionable, as the President has proposed. The FCC should reject this attempt to require it to regulate online platforms. If the FCC were to respond to the President’s request, not only would it be acting without any statutory authority and contradicting its own recent holdings, it would be acting unconstitutionally and abandoning any pretense that it is an ‘independent’ agency. The FTC should likewise reject calls to transform its consumer protection and competition authorities into tools to pressure platforms into adopting politically favored points of view, or content moderation and editorial policies that those in power want them to have. Of course platforms should act fairly and consistently, and afford their users transparent policies and due process. But the specific editorial choices that platforms make, and the content of their policies, are theirs alone to decide. A diverse and competitive media and online ecosystem, not government content regulation, is the best way to ensure that all voices are heard.”

Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia: “This executive order is a naked attempt by the president to bully into silence Twitter, other social-media sites and anyone who attempts to correct or criticize Trump. This blatant and bungling attempt at censorship is outrageous and unconstitutional. Trump’s threat to use the executive branch’s power to punish internet companies for Twitter’s mild fact check of his statements is exactly the kind of abuse of power that the Constitution and our First Amendment were written to prevent. It’s undoubtedly the first step down an increasingly dark path of Trump using the power of his office to intimidate and silence media companies, journalists, activists and anyone else who criticizes or corrects him. The FCC is supposed to be an independent agency, not the censorship or propaganda arm of the White House. That Brendan Carr, an FCC commissioner, would go on TV cloaking himself in the language of free speech while entertaining Trump’s authoritarian actions is shameful and antithetical to the rights and principles of a free society. Trump could not be more wrong on the law, the facts and the scope of his power. Neither independent agencies like the FCC nor other executive-branch agencies like the Department of Commerce have any role to play in implementing, adjudicating or deciding any matter regarding Section 230. Section 230 was written to protect free speech on the open internet. Changing Section 230 is Congress’ prerogative, not the president’s by fiat. His poorly written executive order is an embarrassment and would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.”

Sharon Bradford Franklin, policy director at New America’s Open Technology Institute:“This executive order amounts to an unconstitutional effort to intimidate online platforms into censoring free expression and promoting only the administration’s views. Section 230 is a law enacted by Congress, and the president cannot amend a statute by issuing an executive order. While the public must hold tech companies accountable for their decisions regarding what content to allow on their platforms, the government cannot dictate how companies make these decisions. The order outlines a series of tactics designed to impose the weight of government authority to direct what content may appear online. Such a campaign to control what speech may appear online violates the First Amendment and seriously undermines the free expression interests that it protects. When platforms actually try to do the right thing and counter voting-related misinformation, we should support these efforts rather than threatening to punish them.”

Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) President Matt Schruers: “Social media services are engines of free expression for all political identities, and Internet users, including the President, can choose from a variety of platforms to express their views. All Americans should be concerned to find a U.S. president issuing executive orders in response to a company that challenges the veracity of his statements. Social media companies -- and all Americans -- have an inviolable right to comment on what our government says. Ultimately we have to ask: are we a nation that tolerates its President retaliating against private companies for questioning his words? Retaliation against the private sector for fact-checking leadership is what we expect from foreign autocracies, not the United States. If consistent with current reports, this order would be profoundly un-American and a blight on our free speech traditions.” 

Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS (whose members include Twitter, Google, Amazon, and Facebook): “We the people built our nation on laws. Laws that protect speech, laws that promote innovation, laws that guarantee our freedoms will flourish forever. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the law of the land for a reason. It gives all people the ability to raise their voice, promote their ideas and create new businesses online. Since the dawn of our democracy, promoting free speech while protecting our citizens from harm has always been a collective responsibility that is already enshrined into the 230 law and should not be changed. Social media is an American made engine for economic growth and opportunity. The Executive Order threatens to hurt innovators and small business on Main Street who depend on social media the most.” 

Christian Dawson, Executive Director of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition: "While the President’s Executive Order ‘Preventing Online Censorship’ may be directed against ‘large, powerful social media companies’ to narrow the scope of the liability shield in Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, the Order’s broad regulatory directives would inflict massive collateral damage on the small businesses that power the Internet at the time America needs them to be at full strength to help our economy and citizens recover from the global pandemic.  Section 230 has fueled the dramatic success of the Internet as an engine of economic growth, technological innovation, educational opportunity, social discourse and entertainment by allowing the Internet’s infrastructure to operate without the threat of crushing legal liability for what Internet users may or may not do. The Section 230 liability shield has allowed countless entrepreneurs to take the risk of starting new online businesses that have strengthened and diversified our digital infrastructure. Without these protections, America would not have the variety and multitude of small, medium, and large online platforms we enjoy today. The Internet infrastructure is interconnected with layers of operational and commercial interdependencies among platforms of different sizes. Top-level regulations would flow down to the smallest competitors. The rapid onslaught of the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the vital importance of maintaining the Internet’s resilience now and in the future. This Executive Order heads down a dangerous road of new regulations that will result in massive litigation, increase business costs, slow economic growth, and create uncertainty for entrepreneurs and innovators–all of which will weaken long-term Internet resilience.”

Consumer Technology Association President Gary Shapiro: "We oppose today's unconstitutional, ill-considered executive order. The free speech protections in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act are the legal underpinning of our vibrant U.S. online economy and our nation's global digital leadership. America's internet companies lead the world and it is incredible that our own political leaders would seek to censor them for political purposes. These same politicians extensively advertise on them and just a few minutes online will reveal these platforms contain a multitude of political views. Section 230 protects these companies as well as any start-up website which hosts others' speech - from community bulletin boards to social media sites to the Fox News comments section. This executive order also conflicts with existing law. The President does not have the legal authority to add new laws for the FCC to follow. That is the role of Congress with legislation - sent to the President. The President is also trying to create new law by declaring private companies are the equivalent of 'public forums' for speech purposes. In the American system, private companies - not government - decide the 'rules of the road' for running their platforms, including what speech they host. Our nation's pro-free speech, low-touch regulation philosophy is part of what makes American innovators the most successful in the world. Companies can innovate without fear of being sued repeatedly over third-party content. Likewise, consumers have the power of choice - they can decide which platforms to use or even start their own.  Today's announcement will burden innovators, reduce our international competitiveness and promote wasteful trial lawyer lawsuits. While we support legitimate efforts to protect and enhance free speech, this executive order is not the answer."

American Civil Liberties Union Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane: “Much as he might wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter. This order, if issued, would be a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president.”

Reactions to President Trump's Executive Order on Section 230 Pallone, Doyle & Schakowsky Statement on Trump Executive Order Attacking Free Speech Wyden Statement on Reported Executive Order to Undermine the First Amendment and Section 230 Statement By FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel On Executive Order Statement By Commissioner Starks On Section 230 Executive Order Trump's Executive Order Is a Blatant and Unconstitutional Attempt to Silence Critics and Fact Checkers (Free Press) Public Knowledge Rejects White House Executive Order Targeting Free Speech on Social Media Platforms Pelosi Statement on Trump Social Media Executive Order Trump targets social media companies with executive order after Twitter fact-checks his tweets (CNBC) Trump Social Media Order Draws Crowd (Multichannel News) OTI Condemns Executive Order That Would Promote, Not Prevent Censorship FCC commissioner says Trump’s Section 230 plan ‘does not work’ (Vox) i2Coalition Statement in Response to President’s Executive Order to Regulate Social Media Sen. Cruz Applauds President Trump’s Action on Big Tech Bias