Advocacy Groups Continue Battle Over Trump's Social Media Crackdown

Voter advocacy groups have appealed a trial judge's dismissal of their lawsuit challenging President Trump's executive order regarding social media.

The lawsuit -- brought by Rock the Vote, Vote Latino, Common Cause, Free Press and Maplight -- was thrown out in November on the grounds that the organizations lacked “standing” to proceed because they didn't show how their rights had been affected by Trump's move.

The organizations this week filed papers to initiate an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The battle centers on an executive order issued by Trump in May, which included a directive for the Commerce Department to petition the Federal Communications Commission for 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 lawsuits based on material posted by users, as well as from lawsuits over content moderation. (The First Amendment separately protects companies from lawsuits for removing or moderating content, but Section 230 can provide companies with a faster path to victory when they are sued.)

Acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel has said she believes it would be unconstitutional for the agency to move forward with regulations.

But the advocacy groups are pursuing an appeal anyway -- mostly as a “precaution,” according to Free Press counsel Matt Wood.

“We filed the appeal to preserve our rights in the unlikely event that the new administration moves forward with the executive order,” Wood says. “We hope the new administration will stop pursuing that executive order, but wanted to make sure our appeal was still viable until we know for sure.”

Trump issued the order after Twitter alerted users to dubious claims related to voter fraud in two of his tweets.

In July, the Commerce Department petitioned the FCC for the regulations sought by Trump. Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he planned to initiate a proceeding to interpret Section 230, but he departed the agency before doing so.

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