Biden revokes Executive Order that could be exploited to censor free speech and enable propaganda

President Biden has revoked a harmful Executive Order issued by Trump in 2020. The Biden administration quashed the executive order following pressure from activist groups which claimed it was unconstitutional and damaging to internet users' ability to weed out false information online. 

The Executive Order in question was issued by Trump in May 2020, following Twitter's decision to fact-check posts made by Trump that included misinformation about mail-in votes.

In those posts, Trump falsely claimed that mail-in votes were open to fraud and could be highly manipulated – actions that Trump claimed might be exploited to steal the presidential election from him.

Following disinformation warnings that highlighted the lack of evidence for his claims, Trump issued an Executive Order designed to crack down on social media companies that dared to speak out against him.

The order directed a number of federal agencies to punish social media companies that made moderation decisions that went against his personal wishes.

A win for activists

The decision to overturn Trump's dangerous Executive Order is a win for the coalition of six activist groups that have been calling for the federal directive to be undone.

Those groups filed lawsuits last year in an attempt to overturn the Executive Order: legal actions that are currently making their way through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit.

Now, however, a letter penned last month by Rock The Vote, the Center for Democracy & Technology, Common Cause, Voto Latino, Decoding Democracy, and Free Press has resulted in direct action from Biden.

Rock the Vote logo

The letter urged the Biden administration to rescind the order on grounds that it is a "drastic assault on free speech designed to punish online platforms that fact-checked President Trump". 

In the letter, the advocacy groups stated that Trump's actions revealed that "the full force of the federal government would be brought down on those whose speech he did not agree with, in an effort to coerce adoption of his own views and to prevent the dissemination of accurate information about voting".

As a result, the decision to revoke the order is a win for America's democracy as well as free speech on the internet. It is a highly favorable decision that upholds social media platforms' right to advise users about misinformation, even if it happens to be posted by members of the government. 

This is good news, because Trump's Executive Order could have been exploited to subvert Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – legislation that protects "interactive computer service providers" from being held accountable for third-party content posted on their platforms. 

Many feared that the order could have served as a catalyst for federal rule-makers to re-interpret Section 230; potentially leading to legal ramifications that could have threatened social media companies' ability to host user-created content and opinions – and that might have resulted in the need for heightened levels of censorship.

Overreaching powers

The potential for government agencies to control the information that appears online is something that must always be opposed.

Throughout the world, overreaching governments use this kind of legislation to silence opposition and to remove information posted by political dissidents and activists that dare to speak out against them. Permitting similar powers in the US would have been a direct affront on the nation's democratic principles.

If left in place, Trump's Executive Order might have been leveraged to facilitate the spread of government propaganda in the future. As a result, Biden's decision ensures that social media companies can continue to highlight false information even when government actors post it.

In a blog regarding Biden's decision to revoke the Executive Order, Electronic Frontier Foundation – which represents the plaintiffs in the Rock The Vote v. Biden case – stated:

We applaud Biden's revocation of the 'Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship' and are reviewing his rescission of the order and conferring with our clients to determine what impact it has on the pending legal challenge in the Ninth Circuit.

Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 

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