Voting rights groups sue Trump over executive order targeting social media companies
A set of voting rights groups and advocacy organizations is suing the Trump administration over the president’s executive order from May targeting the liability protections for social media platforms.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in California, the coalition claimed that President Trump’s order represented an unlawful retaliation for Twitter’s decision to fact-check his false tweets about mail-in voting. They also say the order threatens their constitutional rights to receive curated information without government interference.
The complaint asks the court to declare the order unconstitutional and to block administration officials from implementing or enforcing any part of it.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Protect Democracy Project and Cooley LLP filed the suit on behalf of the groups Common Cause, Free Press, Maplight, Rock the Vote and Vote Latino. It represents the second legal complaint challenging the president’s order, which the administration said stemmed from “online censorship.”
Trump in May signed an executive order aimed at rolling back protections social media companies have over the posts shared by its users, as well the good-faith efforts they make to moderate content. The order called for the Commerce Department to petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to craft and enforce rules narrowing the scope of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
A petition was filed in July, which was followed by an invitation from the FCC for public comment.
Section 230 has been regarded as the foundation of the modern internet; however, critics claim that it allows big platforms to avoid responsibility for content on its networks. Republicans also claim social media companies should not receive liability protections because they censor conservative speech, though little evidence has come out to support that position.
In their lawsuit, the advocacy groups argue that Trump’s order would undermine platforms’ rights to moderate misinformation and lead to the greater proliferation of unsubstantiated posts about voting and elections. They claim this would force the groups to “divert scarce resources” away from their missions to combating misinformation.
The complaint also zeroes in on the timing of the order, which arrived just days after Twitter placed fact-check labels on the president’s tweets for the first time. Following the decision, Trump claimed in a tweet that Twitter was “stifling free speech” and that he “will not allow it to happen,” the lawsuit noted.
“It is unlawfully retaliatory and coercive, sending a clear and chilling message: question President Trump and face retribution from the entire Executive Branch,” the lawsuit stated. Named defendants include Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr.
Attorneys representing the groups stressed that Trump’s move could have a significant impact on elections and voters’ right to accurate information.
“When Trump retaliates against private social media companies for fact-checking his lies, it’s not only a First Amendment violation — it’s the kind of behavior you’d expect to see from a dictator,” Kristy Parker, counsel with Protect Democracy, said in a statement.
As the November election approaches, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have faced increasing scrutiny over how they are handling misinformation on their platforms. Twitter earlier this week added a rules violation label to another tweet from Trump that claimed mail drop boxes posed a health threat.
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