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CEO DATELINE – Tech groups push back against Trump social media order

May 29, 2020
By Walt Williams

Associations representing technology companies say an executive order signed by President Donald Trump targeting social media companies is unconstitutional because it would restrict free speech.

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Trump unveiled the order Thursday after Twitter posted a fact check along with a tweet in which the president said mail-in ballots would lead to “a Rigged Election.”  Twitter stated that there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.

Among other things, the executive order suggests stripping away liability protections social media platforms enjoy for posts made by users. The protections have been criticized by lawmakers from both parties in the past, who say they shield social media companies from failing to police child pornography, posts that incite violence, and spreading false and defamatory information. (Congress updated the law in 2018 to waive protections for posts promoting prostitution and sex trafficking.) Still, Trump found little support for his order, and many legal experts say it lacks any real teeth for enforcement, according to NPR.

Various tech groups blasted the president’s actions. In a statement, Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, called it “unconstitutional, ill-considered executive order.”

“America's internet companies lead the world and it is incredible that our own political leaders would seek to censor them for political purposes,” he said. “These same politicians extensively advertise on them and just a few minutes online will reveal these platforms contain a multitude of political views.”

Trump and some Republicans have suggested social media platforms like Twitter are biased against conservatives. Internet Association interim CEO Jon Berroya rejected that argument in his reaction to the order.

“Claims of so-called viewpoint bias rely on isolated anecdotes that are undermined by the fact that politicians and political groups successfully use social media to reach millions of followers every day,” he said.

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, also pushed back against allegations of political bias. In addition, he noted that lawmakers had previously asked social media companies to take added steps to ensure the accuracy of the information posted on their platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today’s effort to unilaterally reinterpret that law by executive order undermines efforts to remove misinformation during a public health crisis, and is not only unlawful, but irresponsible,” he said.