Court tosses constitutional challenge to Trump order on social media

Photoshopped image of Attorney General Bill Barr rolling a giant boulder labeled Section 230 up a mountain.

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A federal court in California has tossed out a lawsuit from the voting rights group Rock the Vote. The lawsuit argued that Donald Trump’s May executive order attacking social media platforms violated the group’s First Amendment rights.

Trump’s May executive order was a strange document. Trump was angry about social media companies’ treatment of him and other conservatives. But US law doesn’t actually give the president much power to directly punish private technology companies. So while the May order included a lot of overheated rhetoric, the order’s operative sections were largely toothless.

The order asked the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to take actions against social media companies. However, these are independent agencies that ultimately make decisions independent of the president. The FTC has signaled it won’t take action on Trump’s suggestions. The FCC has begun a rulemaking process to rethink Section 230, which provides legal protections for sites that host third-party content. But the FCC is just at the beginning of that process. We’re far from any legally binding changes in regulations, and it’s not clear if the FCC even has the authority to re-interpret Section 230.

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