President Trump's recent move to clamp down on Twitter and other online platforms violates the First Amendment, the digital rights group Center for Democracy & Technology alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The organization is seeking a declaration that Trump's recent executive order regarding social media platforms is unconstitutional, and an injunction blocking the order's implementation.
“The order is plainly retaliatory: it attacks a private company, Twitter, for exercising its First Amendment right to comment on the President’s statements,” the organization writes in a complaint brought in federal court in Washington, D.C. “More fundamentally, the order seeks to curtail and chill the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals -- by demonstrating the willingness to use government authority to retaliate against those who criticize the government.”
On Thursday, Trump signed an order that aims to tie web companies' protection from lawsuits based on users' speech to the companies' content moderation policies.
The order specifically directs the Commerce Department to petition the Federal Communications Commission to craft regulations that could deprive online platforms of the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
That law currently immunizes Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other websites from civil suits based on material posted by users.
Trump issued the order after Twitter alerted users to dubious claims in two of his tweets.
Legal experts immediately questioned the validity of that order for numerous reasons, including that the Communications Decency Act doesn't empower the FCC to craft regulations.
“An executive order can't overrule a statute of Congress,” Jeremy Goldman, a partner with the law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, told MediaPost Thursday. “There is no mechanism in the statute for any enforcement action by the FCC.”
The Center for Democracy & Technology says in its complaint that the order “will interfere significantly with the freedom of speech of all Americans,” because it will force companies like Twitter “to shape and apply their content moderation policies according to government officials’ desires.”
The organization adds that the order “seeks to circumvent the roles of Congress and the courts by dictating a new interpretation of a federal statute that is contrary to established law.”