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Perspective: The Summer Of The First Amendment

Susan Stephens

While the nation’s attention is quite understandably focused on the protests taking place on our city streets, there is another First Amendment struggle that is developing online.

Recently, the President of the United States signed an executive order targeting social media. The order was a direct response to Twitter having fact-checked one of the President’s tweets by adding a link that invited users to learn more about mail-in voting.

It targets a specific section in the Communications Decency Act -- a 1996 law that was the first notable attempt by the US Congress to regulate Internet content. This section, section 230, not only insulates online service providers from liability over third-party content but gives them wide discretion over how they decide to moderate it. And it is this legal stipulation -- along with a few other provisions -- that really allowed social media platforms to flourish in the past two decades.

Though the executive order cannot change the letter of the law, it can alter the way the law is enforced by federal agencies like the FCC.  But this effort will most likely be a difficult struggle for the White House. The law as it is currently written leaves very little wiggle room and in previous challenges, the courts have ruled in favor of the tech companies, upholding their immunity and content moderation practices.

However this plays out, it is clear that the summer of 2020 is already heating up to be the season of First Amendment struggles.

I’m David Gunkel and that’s my perspective.

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