executive-order-of-us-targeting-protections-social-media-platforms-summary

Context: US President recently signed an executive order aimed at removing certain protections for social media platforms.

Background

  • The moves come as a reaction to twitter’s new policy undertaken amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Twitter has introduced labels and warning messages that aim to provide “additional context and information” on Tweets containing disputed, misleading or unverified claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More about the executive order: 

  • The order aims to remove the safeguards of social media platforms regarding any liabilities arising out of the content that is posted on their websites
  • It seeks to revoke the liability shield offered to platforms and exposes them to liability “like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.
  • The executive order alleges that online platforms are engaging in “selective censorship” and that Twitter’s labeling of Tweets shows “political bias”.

Implications of the order

  • The order gives federal regulators the agency to take action against online platforms that are seen as censoring free speech.
  • It directs the Secretary of Commerce to file a petition for making rules with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) along with the Attorney General.
  • These rules will clarify the conditions under which an action taken by an online platform to restrict access or availability of certain content is not “taken in good faith.
  • Such actions of social media platforms are excluded from being protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Communications Decency Act (CDA) of US

  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) provides immunity to online platforms and protects them from being liable for the content of their user’s posts on their platform every day.
  • Under the same section, providers of “interactive computer services” are free from being treated as the publisher or speaker of any information posted by the users, rendering these platforms “unfettered by Federal or State regulation”.
  • The Act also protects online platforms from civil liability.
    • This means that they may not be liable for restricting access to certain content that platforms may consider being, “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable” and when such content is removed in “good faith”.

 

Nature of Executive order in US

  • It is a written directive issued by the President and is one of the most common presidential documents. 
  • Such orders are not legislation and don’t require the approval of the Congress, which also means that the Congress cannot overturn them.
  • However, Congress may pass legislation that makes it difficult or impossible to carry out an executive order, such as removing funding.
  • Only a sitting US president can overturn an executive order by issuing another one to that effect.

Similar provisions in India

  • In India, Section 79 of the IT Act provides similar protection to social media platforms, provided they do their due diligence based on other provisions of the law.
  • Because of this, platforms like WhatsApp can provide end-to-end encryption and tell governments it can’t read a user’s texts or provide access to them. 

The move of the US could set a precedent for other countries, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will follow them.

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