FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 17, 2021
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One of former President Donald Trump’s most absurd executive orders was titled “Preventing Online Censorship” when in fact it did exactly the exact opposite of that: It deputized the FCC and FTC as online speech police. This order was so completely out of control that even Trump’s own FCC commissioners opposed it. The order, framed as a way for Trump to retaliate against Twitter for censoring some of his most dangerous and violence-provoking messaging, demonstrated the real dangers of putting private content moderation in the hands of government bodies.
In a Friday night news dump, President Joe Biden revoked that executive order. But we remain concerned about increasing misguided attacks on Section 230 from both Democrats and Republicans.
“President Trump’s executive order to blow up Section 230 and put the government in charge of speech on the Internet was deeply silly and blatantly violated the First Amendment,” said Evan Greer (she/her), Director of Fight for the Future, “but it was just one among a series of attacks that have continued against Section 230, from both sides of the aisle. Misguided directives, whether they come in the form of Executive Orders from President Biden directly or from Congress, have the dangerous potential to stifle human rights and online free expression by enabling censorship of legitimate content and make it harder for platforms to remove harmful (but not illegal) content – thus making all bad parts of the Internet worse while burning the good parts to the ground.”
After the Executive Order, Fight for the Future released a campaign, https://www.saveonlinefreespeech.org, which allowed visitors to easily submit a comment to the FCC opposing the executive order and similarly misguided proposals to gut Section 230, by filling out a form and selecting from a dropdown menu of humorous adjectives describing the order, such as "ass-backwards,” “despicable,” and “legally unsound.” The comments were submitted directly to the FCC’s public docket, which so far has been mostly filled with nonsense, including identical astroturf comments backed by AT&T –– some that still include boilerplate “XYZ group” language –– and hundreds of comments from an anti-LGBTQ hate group backing the executive order.
Fight for the Future also led a campaign to release a letter along with 70+ other human rights and social justice groups opposing repeal of or overbroad changes to Section 230, addressed to the Biden/Harris administration. Some of these groups included Access Now, Data for Black Lives, Muslim Justice League, Sex Workers Outreach Project, and the Wikimedia Foundation.
Fight for the Future opposes reckless changes to Section 230 that could harm marginalized communities and human rights. We support strong Federal data privacy legislation, robust antitrust enforcement, the restoration of net neutrality. We’ve called for an outright ban on surveillance-based advertising, and immediate industry-wide moratorium on non-transparent forms of algorithmic manipulation of content and newsfeeds. We don’t agree that more aggressive content moderation on its own will address the harms of Big Tech, and we fear that without structural changes, more aggressive platform moderation and content removal will disproportionately harm marginalized people and social movements.