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Trump’s FCC order could make social media even more of a garbage fire

The White House wants the U.S. government to have a much bigger say in what you see on social media.

A new draft executive order from the White House would put the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in charge of deciding what sites like Twitter and Facebook can remove from their sites, reports CNN, which obtained a copy of a summary of the order.

President Donald Trump and other conservative leaders have long said that conservative content is censored on major social media networks — even though the data clearly shows otherwise. This order, called “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship,” appears aimed at making it so that conservative content could better thrive on those sites, regardless of whether it breaks the rules.

The order could help conspiracy theories, misinformation, and even deepfakes thrive even more on social media, if they’re considered political conversation. Conspiracy theorists like Infowars’ Alex Jones have claimed that they’re censored for being conservative after being kicked off of major social media sites. 

The proposed order calls for the FCC to create new regulations on how and when the law will protect social media websites, specifically when those sites decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. The summary also suggests that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should take those newly created regulations into account when it files lawsuits against companies or opens investigations into their practices.

As the law stands now, social media companies are not liable for the content posted by their users under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They also receive immunity for taking down questionable content, as long as that takedown appears to be “in good faith.” While that provision exists so internet companies aren’t the target of constant lawsuits, the executive order would remove that immunity if a user isn’t notified of the content being taken down, or if the takedown is deemed anticompetitive.

The move presumably has something to do with Trump’s largely unfounded view that social media companies show a systemic bias against conservatives. According to the summary, the Trump administration has received 15,000 complaints on social media companies censoring political conversation on their platforms.

Those complaints likely came from the website the White House created earlier this year specifically asking for consumers to complain about partisan bias by social media companies.

Presuming the executive order gets filed, the FTC will also get in on the action. It will have to open a “public complaint docket,” and it will have to work with the FCC on a report on how social media companies curate content on their platforms and whether that curation is done in a neutral way.

The summary suggests that any company whose user base accounts for at least 1/8 of the U.S. population would be subject to scrutiny. That means in addition to Twitter and Facebook, companies such as Google, Pinterest, and Snapchat might also be subject to investigation. We reached out to Twitter and Facebook for comment and will update this story if we hear back. 

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