Biden Revokes Trump Executive Order Targeting Online Censorship U.S. President Joe Biden. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty)
By Sandy Fitzgerald | Monday, 17 May 2021 02:26 PM
President Joe Biden on Friday revoked former President Donald Trump's executive order that would have changed legal protections for social media sites and other online platforms.
The order called on multiple federal agencies to rescind Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that protects online social media services from legal responsibility for third-party content posted on their platforms.
Biden, who during his presidential campaign supported revoking the section of the federal law, did so after a coalition of organizations challenging the order in court called on the president to abandon it last month because “it is a drastic assault on free speech designed to punish online platforms that fact-checked President Trump.”
It is not clear, however, if the president plans to take further action now toward either a reform or repeal of Section 230.
Biden's move on Friday, which happened without much fanfare, signaled the federal government is pulling back from regulation of political speech online. Still, reforming the measure may remain on the table, with Biden's Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stating during her confirmation hearings that she supports reforms and that she'd use resources through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to discuss them with shareholders and members of Congress.
Trump's order came a year ago this month after social media sites started labeling some of his posts as false, reports The Washington Post. When he signed the document, he said that the action was being taken to "defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history."
The order encouraged the Federal Communications Commission to rethink the scope of Section 230 and to send complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission. The agency was also asked to investigate whether the content-moderation policies used by tech companies were in line with their neutrality pledges.
Meanwhile, Trump remains permanently banned on Twitter, while Facebook and Instagram have approved for his ban to continue on those platforms while further investigation takes place.
Democrats strongly criticized Trump's executive order and questioned whether the FCC could clarify the meaning of laws. They have also slammed social media companies for not taking a strong stance against hate speech, while Republicans claim the sites censor conservative points of view and media reports.
Critics of reforming Section 230, however, say that holding website operators responsible for content generated by users could hurt smaller companies that wouldn't have financial resources that tech giants like Facebook or Twitter have to fight back against legal action.
They also say the move would encourage that political speech would be regulated more, not less, by websites wishing to avoid liability issues, and that online operators could even stop moderating user content, which would open the way for more disinformation and trolling to make it online.
Even without Trump's order, Democrats have in recent months moved forward with legislation seeking further rules on websites.
In February, Sens. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act to reform Section 230. The bill would open the door for internet companies to be held liable in situations of cyberstalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination.
"When Section 230 was enacted in 1996, the Internet looked very different than it does today," Warner said. "A law meant to encourage service providers to develop tools and policies to support effective moderation has instead conferred sweeping immunity on online providers even when they do nothing to address foreseeable, obvious, and repeated misuse of their products and services to cause harm. Section 230 has provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free' card to the largest platform companies even as their sites are used by scam artists, harassers, and violent extremists to cause damage and injury."
He said the bill doesn't interfere with free speech, but allows big tech platforms to be held accountable "for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long.”