On Thursday, in response to new fact-checking initiatives launched to increase transparency on social media, President Trump signed an executive order seeking to curtail protections that have been in place for years, shielding social media platforms from being liable for the content published on their platforms. The executive order aims to empower federal regulators to penalize platforms for suspending users or removing content and claimed that doing so violates free speech.
We have been in contact with IAB US and specifically the IAB Washington office this morning and wanted to share the following brief update on initial reactions from our colleagues.
Even though Trump’s efforts to curtail platforms’ flagging mechanisms will almost certainly fail, the U.S. government taking a position against free speech (albeit with the attendant reasons and asterisks Trump adds to it) is a dangerous signal to other democracies – including ours.
The quick state of play is that Trump’s Executive Order focuses on a portion of the Communications Decency Act known as Section 230, which grants broad liability protections to tech platforms from civil suits when it comes to what users post. His order would urge regulators to create new rules aimed at weakening or pulling back that “shield,” so to speak.
It also asks the FTC to report on acts of “political bias” collected by the White House and apparently, the US Department of Justice is working on draft legislation as well.
Despite his Executive Order, the President does not have unilateral power to regulate tech companies and social media platforms.
It’s worth noting that this week, a federal appeals court ruled in a case brought by conservative activists against social media companies, and affirmed that “private” websites (FB, Twitter, etc.) are not public spaces and social media companies don’t have 1st amendment obligations.
Thus, Congress would need to act to do anything that changes the scope of the protections that Section 230 offers. With Democrats in control the House, it is unlikely that any bills would progress along those lines.
Randall Rothenberg, CEO of IAB US issued the following statement on the matter.
IAB Canada will continue to monitor this file and has coordinated discussions with international IABs to discuss the implications this move might have on international markets including our own. Social media platforms have enormous international audiences, generate ad revenue internationally and importantly, may have elections implications internationally. Protecting any platform or publisher that chooses to implement fact-checking into their policies is a critical element to protecting the open, ad-supported web.
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