A coalition of voter advocacy groups has filed a lawsuit against president Donald Trump’s attempts to remove social media companies’ legal protections.
In May, after Twitter fact-checked two of his tweets about mail-in voting, Trump signed an executive order aimed at scaling back Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that protects internet companies from litigation over content posted by users.
Last month, the Commerce Department framed the move in terms of the First Amendment. “President Trump is committed to protecting the rights of all Americans to express their views and not face unjustified restrictions or selective censorship from a handful of powerful companies,” wrote Ross in a statement.
However, groups including Rock The Vote, Voto Latino and Common Cause, as well as watchdog groups MapLight and Free Press, are now challenging the move on the grounds that it violates voters’ rights to receive accurate information, as well as the rights of tech companies to maintain accuracy on their sites.
And David Greene, civil liberties director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has called it “a transparent attempt to retaliate against Twitter for fact-checking the president’s posts, as well as an obvious threat to any other company that might want to do the same.”
The case has been filed in the Northern District of California against Trump, attorney general William Barr, secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross, and Douglas Kinkoph, who holds a number of tech policy roles at the Commerce Department.
“We joined this cause to protect voters’ access to accurate information about voting during the pandemic, free from unconstitutional governmental meddling that is being done to advance a particular political viewpoint,” says Michael Rhodes,chair of law firm Cooley’s global cyber/data/privacy and internet practice groups.
“We want all voters to be able to make informed and independent political choices and that requires protecting online platforms’ ability to curate information without fear of reprisal from the federal government.”
The complaint follows a similar suit from the Center for Democracy and Technology earlier this summer on the grounds that the executive order is ‘plainly retaliatory’ and chills the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals.
Since then, the Justice Department has filed a request to have the lawsuit thrown out on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional and that its impact is still ‘speculative’.