A digital rights group has filed a lawsuit to stop President Trump’s executive order to regulate social media companies, claiming the White House is out to suppress free speech.
“The Order is plainly retaliatory: it attacks a private company, Twitter, for exercising its First Amendment right to comment on the President’s statements,” according to the complaint from the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit based in Washington DC.
The lawsuit will try to convince a DC federal court to throw out Trump’s executive order as unconstitutional. The complaint’s central argument is that the White House fundamentally misunderstands the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from curtailing free speech from both citizens and private companies.
“The government cannot and should not force online intermediaries into moderating speech according to the President’s whims,” said CDT President Alexandra Givens in a statement. “Blocking this order is crucial for protecting freedom of speech and continuing important work to ensure the integrity of the 2020 election.”
Trump views the matter differently. Last Thursday, he signed the executive order after Twitter fact-checked two of his tweets that contained misleading information about mail-in balloting. According to Trump, Twitter’s action underscores how US social media companies have been allegedly trying to suppress conservative viewpoints.
“When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power,” reads the executive order. “They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.”
The President is now demanding Twitter, Facebook and Google act as completely neutral platforms. To force them to do this, Trump’s executive order intends to undo a US law that protects internet companies from getting sued when they host user content found to be illegal or objectionable.
However, the lawsuit from CDT argues Trump is the one trying to chill free speech by bullying the social media companies into doing his bidding. “The President has made clear that his goal is to use threats of retaliation and future regulation to intimidate intermediaries into changing how they moderate content, essentially ensuring that the dangers of voter suppression and disinformation will grow unchecked in an election year,” the CDT’s Givens claimed.
There’s some signs that Trump’s executive order won’t hold up in court. Last week, a federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit that tried to sue Facebook, Google and Twitter for allegedly censoring conservative users. The reason: The First Amendment is designed to stop the government from curtailing free speech, not private companies.