Civil liberties groups are warning of a major threat to online freedoms and First Amendment rights if a leaked draft of a Trump administration edict—dubbed by critics as a “Censor the Internet” executive order that would give powerful federal agencies far-reaching powers to pick and choose which kind of Internet material is and is not acceptable—is allowed to go into effect.
“If these reports are a trial balloon from the White House, then it’s time to pop it.”
—Chris Lewis, Public KnowledgeAccording to CNN, which obtained a copy of the draft, the new rule “calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies.”
While Politico was the first to report how the draft was being circulated by the White House, CNN notes that if put into effect, “the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.”
Following reporting on the leaked draft, free speech and online advocacy groups raised alarm about the troubling and far-reaching implications of the Trump plan if it was put into effect by executive decree.
“It’s hard to put into words how mind bogglingly absurd this executive order is,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, in a tweet. “In the name of defending free speech it would allow mass government censorship of online content. In practice, it means whichever party is in power can decide what speech is allowed on the internet.”
PEN America, which defends the free expression for writers, journalists, and others, warned that any executive order based on this draft rule would be an unconstitutional “anti-American edict.”
As detailed in an action alert put out by Fight for the Future over the weekend:
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