Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order to “prevent online censorship” and pledged to pursue legislation with the same goal. His order, and the threat of future legislation, are misguided and already harming online speech in the United States.

Coming just days after Twitter fact-checked a tweet from the president that contained misinformation about mail-in voting, the order directs the Federal Trade Commission to review potential cases of conservative bias under its Section 5 authority and directs the Commerce Department to petition the Federal Communications Commission to re-examine the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a federal law that shields online platforms from being sued based on their users’ content or their content moderation.

“These orders are legally unsupportable and practically ineffective, but the threat behind them may be enough to affect moderation decisions of private companies, in complete disregard for the First Amendment,” said Jeffrey Westling, Fellow at the R Street Institute.

“This order is a political ploy to ultimately benefit the conservatives who cried ‘censorship.’ As a result, this will significantly impact free speech online, as well as the current moderation systems employed by technology companies, including Twitter,” said Daisy Soderberg-Rivkin, Fellow at the R Street Institute and former Google content moderator. “Ironically, President Trump, and his conservative supporters, will not benefit from the impact of this order. If Twitter is held liable for every decision they make and need to meticulously sort through all the President’s posts for ‘politically biased content’, it would most likely wipe out a large majority of his posts.”

The R Street Institute has long advocated for protecting Section 230 and disagreed with government measures aimed at weakening it, which are too often motivated by a desire of government officials to control speech they dislike. Section 230 is foundational to a free and open internet, and measures aimed at weakening it are misguided. The same is true of toothless measures to chill speech.

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