Donald Trump’s Executive Order Draft Addressing ‘Unfair’ Social Media Leaks Early

U.S. President Donald Trump waves after speaking at a White House Mental Health Summit in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House on December 19, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

President Donald Trump revealed that he is signing an executive order addressing social media on Thursday, but a draft of the order leaked early. While the final details could change with the official announcement, the draft shows that the president wants federal regulators to re-examine section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as Reuters reveals.

Section 230 gives internet companies protection from liability for the messages that people post on their platforms. The leaked draft appears to be an attempt to circumvent Congress in order to re-interpret the section. The executive order draft tells the Federal Communications Commission to determine when messages are being moderated with what it deems “unfair or deceptive practices” and argues that tech media companies aren’t acting in “good faith.”

The executive order draft argues that Twitter and other social media sites are censoring free speech.

Experts are calling the draft potentially unconstitutional, but argue that it is meant to send a message to sites — like Twitter and Facebook — that Trump has argued are biased against him. In recent days, the president has been feuding with Twitter after the site opted to label two of his tweets with a fact check warning.

Jack Balkin, a Yale University constitutional law professor, called the order “mostly smoke and mirrors.”

“The president is trying to frighten, coerce, scare, cajole social media companies to leave him alone and not do what Twitter has just done to him.”

“The legal folks seem to think that this whole thing is both a) legally laughable and nonetheless b) a way of making Twitter and Facebook’s life very difficult,” tweeted NBC News correspondent Jacob Ward.

From a legal standpoint, sites have the ability to remove users or messages and to add notes, such as the fact check link included in Trump’s tweets. But Republicans have been arguing recently that fact-checking makes Twitter a publisher rather than a platform for messages, a distinction that could have legal implications.

The president has repeatedly said that he believes Twitter and Facebook unfairly target conservatives and suppress the voice of people on the right.

At the same time, conservatives have argued that private businesses should be able to choose who and when they do business with, such as the cases of bakers and florists who refuse to make their products for same-sex marriages. Critics of Trump’s and other’s stance against Twitter argue that the social media site should be able to exercise that same right.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted that Thursday “will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!” ahead of the expected announcement.

Twitter and Facebook have faced criticism from people on both sides of the political divide who argue that they don’t do enough to police messages on their platforms.