Trump sued over social media executive order

Olivia Rudgard
Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump on a visit to a Catholic shrine yesterday

A digital rights group backed by some of the world's biggest technology companies is suing President Donald Trump over his attempts to dismantle a US online freedom law. 

The Center for Democracy & Technology, based in Washington DC, said that Mr Trump's executive order last week was a "a direct attack on the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment."

The executive order, signed last Thursday, was an attempt to change the premise of longstanding legislation which protects social media companies from legal action over what users post on their sites.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, has long protected social media platforms from libel and other lawsuits by allowing them to set their own rules for what users can post without becoming legally responsible for all the content they host.

Mr Trump's attempt to weaken the law by stating that companies will lose this protection if their moderation efforts are "deceptive or pretextual”, and asking US regulators the Federal Communications Commission to step in

After a draft version was published last week legal experts argued that it would likely be unenforceable in court. 

It came after social media site Twitter added a "fact check" to one of Mr Trump's posts on the topic of postal voting

The CDT lawsuit, filed in a Columbia district court, argues that the First Amendment in the US constitution prevents the government from retaliating against private citizens or companies who criticise it. 

It says 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."

The group is asking for an injunction preventing enforcement of the order. 

CDT President & CEO Alexandra Givens said: "The government cannot and should not force online intermediaries into moderating speech according to the President’s whims. 

"Blocking this order is crucial for protecting freedom of speech and continuing important work to ensure the integrity of the 2020 election."

Twitter's Public Policy account tweeted the CDT's announcement, saying: "Thank you".