Trump Executive Order Smacks of Effort to Create “Ministry of Truth”
PEN America decries order as punitive effort by a president reaping what he has sown through indiscriminate use of social media.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — President Trump today signed an executive order today regarding social media. PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said the following:
“The president’s executive order is the lashing out of a leader who has begun to reap what he has sown in making indiscriminate, at times bullying use of social media, including to spread falsehoods. By releasing the EO on the heels of Twitter’s move to contextualize misleading posts by the president, Trump makes plain that this EO is an act of retaliation against speech that he believes reflects unfavorably on him. This matches the president’s long-standing pattern of using the force of the federal government to exact threats and reprisals against speech he dislikes, in contravention of First Amendment protections. The president has not been silenced by Twitter, nor had his free speech rights abridged. On the contrary, by putting the power of the presidency behind an agenda that disdains truth, sidelines facts, and punishes critics, it is the president who contravenes the First Amendment, threatening free speech and democracy. This executive order seeks to brush aside settled law, circumvent restrictions on executive authority, and politicize government agencies. While the EO fairly cites the risks of empowering private companies to arbitrate our public discourse, far more dangerous would be arrogating for government the powers of a Ministry of Truth, as this EO seems to contemplate.
“While the executive order is an ideologically inflected, punitive, and misguided effort to tilt the tables on social media in the president’s favor, it does reference serious issues that are valid subjects of deliberation and even potential regulation. But such regulation must be done soberly with due recognition of the risks of the government inserting itself to reshape the landscape for free speech online. Certain types of online content, including harassment, disinformation, and incitement to violence, do cause genuine and widespread harm. While platforms have a role to play in mitigating these and other dangers, affording them unfettered discretion to arbitrate speech raises serious concerns about how profit motives, political beliefs, and flawed systems may stunt our public discourse. Forcing them to police speech under penalty of liability, which would happen if Section 230 is rolled back, could intensify these concerns. These are essential subjects for fact-based public and political debate, informed by the widest possible access to information and expertise. They should not be addressed through politically motivated, hastily conceived, and legally dubitable acts of executive overreach.
“In addressing the issues raised in this executive order, government agencies and Congress should facilitate open public deliberation about the issues raised in the text; lay bare the underlying facts that the order references; and carefully weigh the risks and benefits of government intervention in this area. Proposed changes to the text, interpretation, and application of Section 230 must be carefully evaluated based on their constitutionality and their impact on free speech and open debate; such measures must not bypass Congress. Social media and its profound effect on our society and democracy are legitimate subjects of presidential concern. In taking action, though, the government must be motivated by its constitutional duty to uphold free speech and unfettered discourse in the public interest, rather than by personal outrage, ideology, politics, or revenge.”