Thursday, November 26, 2020

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Lawsuit claims Trump’s social media order violates free speech rights

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US President Donald Trump waits before signing an executive order on social-media companies in the Oval Office of the White House on May, 28, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)


BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

True to expectations, President Trump’s attempt to limit protections for social media companies will face a legal challenge. The rights group Center for Democracy and Technology has sued (via the New York Times) Trump for allegedly violating the First Amendment with his Executive Order encouraging government agencies to investigate content removal. CDT claims the order is “plainly retaliatory” against Twitter and is meant to “curtail and chill” protected speech.

The plaintiffs drew on longstanding precedent to back their case, including a Supreme Court determination that the First Amendment protects even harsher criticism of the government and forbids “[o]fficial reprisal” efforts, including attempts to chill speech or use intermediaries as a threat. Trump’s quick response to being fact-checked showed that this was retaliation, according to the lawsuit. CDT also asserted that the order bypassed Congress’ authority in “enacting and interpreting” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has been used to shield websites for liability regarding content.

In a statement, CDT chief Alexandra Givens added that Trump’s move was a “direct attack” on free speech. “The government cannot and should not force online intermediaries into moderating speech according to the President’s whims,” she said.

Twitter unsurprisingly supports the lawsuit. It pointed Engadget to a statement calling the order a “reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law” that could “threaten the future of online speech.” You can read the full statement below.

It won’t be surprising if more legal battles follow, but CDT’s is a prominent example. It could also carry some weight in the tech industry beyond Twitter’s approval, as CDT’s board includes executives from Microsoft and Mozilla.

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