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Trump Signs Executive Order to Regulate Social Media Firms

Legal experts have cast doubt on the validity of the order, however.

President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order with the goal of clamping down on the behavior of social media firms.

At a press conference, Trump summarized the goal of the order as to "make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield." 

Shares of Twitter  (TWTR) - Get Report were roughly flat in after-hours trading after the order was signed, while Facebook  (FB) - Get Report shares were up slightly.

The order concerns Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which established a legal shield for Internet firms in 1996. The clause removes liability for companies that host or republish speech on their platforms, and has been repeatedly affirmed as constitutional in a number of court challenges over the years. 

The new executive order directs the FTC and the FCC to prohibit social media companies from engaging in "deceptive acts," according to Trump, and for Attorney General Bill Barr to work with states to "enforce laws against deceptive business practices." It also calls for policies that prohibit taxpayers from being used to buy advertising with companies that "suppress free speech."

Trump's signing of the executive order was triggered by Twitter's decision this week to affix a fact-checking label to a Trump tweet for the first time

Over the past several days, Trump has published a flurry of posts amplifying a debunked conspiracy theory about a high-profile media critic, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, as well as false and misleading claims on mail-in voting. 

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On Wednesday, Twitter added a label to Trump's voting-related tweets, which incorrectly claimed that mail-in voting is tied to mass fraud. The label reads "get the facts" and links to credible information on mail-in voting. 

Shortly thereafter, Trump again took to Twitter threatening "big action" against Twitter and other social media companies that he deems biased. 

First Amendment experts have cast doubt on the legal validity of the order, noting that the authority to amend Section 230 or design new regulations of internet firms lies with Congress. 

"I don’t think anyone familiar with the First Amendment thinks this executive order will pass muster in court," said David Greenberg, a professor at Rutgers University. "Twitter is a private publishing entity that has the right to establish rules and practices for its users. Granted, Twitter and Facebook increasingly resemble public forums, but they remain private businesses." 

In the meantime, Twitter continued adding fact-checking labels to thousands of tweets on Thursday, according to the NYTimes. The labels included a "get the facts" tag on a tweet from a Chinese official claiming that the coronavirus may have been created by the U.S. military, as well as tags on manipulated images of a police officer implicated in the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in Minneapolis after being being pinned down by the officer. 

Earlier this week, Twitter said it was "accelerating" efforts to expand such labels to include conspiracy theories or other incorrect and misleading posts. 

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