Numerous online platforms suspended or disabled President Trump’s accounts following last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. On Friday evening, Twitter suspended his account permanently. The day before, Facebook blocked President Trump from using its platforms at least through the inauguration. The actions of these companies and others follow decisions by platforms to add fact-checking labels to some of President Trump’s posts in recent months.
These moves take place amid an ongoing debate about platform moderation and the rules — internal and external — that govern what people can say on social media sites. Reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been frequently invoked by critics of the platforms, including President Trump, most recently in a May executive order purporting to address “bias” on the platforms that has faced several legal challenges.
Commenting on the May executive order, the Reporters Committee raised concerns about changes to Section 230 that would “give the government an enormously powerful tool to censor speech it doesn’t like online,” a risk that could extend to news organizations. Section 230 protects the platforms from some legal liability when they moderate content (though the decision to suspend the president’s accounts would be protected by the First Amendment itself). The move to suspend President Trump’s accounts will undoubtedly figure prominently in the ongoing debate over the appropriate legal framework for content moderation and regulation online.
The Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press uses integrated advocacy — combining the law, policy analysis, and public education — to defend and promote press rights on issues at the intersection of technology and press freedom, such as reporter-source confidentiality protections, electronic surveillance law and policy, and content regulation online and in other media. TPFP is directed by Reporters Committee attorney Gabe Rottman. He works with Stanton Foundation National Security/Free Press Legal Fellow Grayson Clary and Technology and Press Freedom Project Legal Fellow Mailyn Fidler.