Press release

United States: Executive Order Would Undermine Free Speech Protections Online

Upholding free speech online is a democratic imperative in a world where platforms are an increasingly important battleground for democracy.

In response to reports that President Trump was planning to issue an executive order regarding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“It is a democratic imperative to uphold free expression online,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “The protections from intermediary liability provided by Section 230 ensure that users are able to engage in legitimate expression while also allowing companies to remove banned content when necessary.”

“Digital platforms are an increasingly important battleground for democracy, and the private sector plays an important role in delivering accurate information to the public during election periods,” Abramowitz continued. “Platforms should respond to election-related disinformation in a serious way, avoiding censorship and ensuring transparency. Twitter’s decision on Tuesday to flag President Trump’s tweet and provide more information did not amount to censorship. Such fact checks provide readers with context, and context is not censorship.”

Background:

On May 28, a draft executive order was circulated in the media, calling for regulatory action to restrict legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This provision protects online service providers from most civil liabilities and state criminal prosecution pertaining to content generated by users. At least two congressional efforts have also sought to revise Section 230, including the SESTA-FOSTA legislative package enacted in 2018 and the EARN IT Act proposed earlier in 2020.

On May 26, President Trump tweeted several baseless claims about mail-in voting and election fraud. Twitter added a link below the tweet text that read, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” leading to content that provided context and clarification regarding the president’s assertions. The Trump administration and certain congressional Republicans have accused, with little evidence, social media platforms of deliberately censoring conservative views.

The United States is rated Free in Freedom in the World 2020 and Free in Freedom on the Net 2019.