Tech advocacy group sues Trump over social media executive order

A tech advocacy group backed by Twitter and Facebook sued President Trump over his executive order cracking down on social media companies.

Trump’s order to curtail liability protections for social firms violates the First Amendment because it was a clear strike back at Twitter’s decision to fact-check his tweets, the Center for Democracy & Technology argued.

The order also threatens to “curtail and chill” constitutionally protected speech “by demonstrating the willingness to use government authority to retaliate against those who criticize the government,” the group said in its federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, DC.

The suit aims to block the feds from enforcing Trump’s order. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The complaint marks the latest episode in Trump’s battle with social media firms, which entered a new phase when the president signed the order Thursday.

The order calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook from legal liability for messages posted on their sites. The Trump administration wants to treat the companies more like publishers, which would expose them to more lawsuits.

The order came after Twitter added fact-checking labels to Trump’s tweets alleging that mail-in voting leads to fraud. The San Francisco-based company followed up the extraordinary move by hiding the president’s Friday tweet suggesting looters could be shot, saying it broke rules about glorifying violence.

Trump said he took action to “defend free speech” from the alleged censorship and bias of social media companies. But the Center for Democracy & Technology — which counts Facebook and Twitter executives among its many outside advisers — says the order threatens free speech rights by signaling to companies that they could be punished for “content moderation decisions” the government doesn’t like.

“The government cannot and should not force online intermediaries into moderating speech according to the president’s whims,” Alexandra Givens, the center’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

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