US: Social media regulation is just one signature away

Shiladitya Ray

US: Social media regulation is just one signature away

22 Sep 2018: US: Social media regulation is just one signature away

It seems like US President Trump is making good on his threat to regulate social media companies.

According to Bloomberg, the White House has drafted an executive order which, once signed by Trump, would pave the way for federal anti-trust and law enforcement agencies to open investigations into the business practices of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

Here's what we know about it.

Details: The order is still in its preliminary stages

It's important to note that the draft executive order is in its preliminary stages, and has not been run past other government agencies.

That said, the order instructs US anti-trust authorities to "thoroughly investigate" whether any online platform has flouted norms.

Additionally, the order also seeks to "address online bias", albeit it doesn't specify any company by name.

Timing: The draft order comes ahead of a crucial meeting

The draft order also comes ahead of the upcoming September 25 meeting between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and state attorneys general who are already investigating social media and tech companies' practices.

The meeting, which will also feature a representative from the Justice Department's anti-trust wing, is intended to help Attorney General Sessions decide whether there's a federal case to be made against the companies.

Context: Of late, Trump has repeatedly attacked social media companies

Earlier, President Trump had accused Google of returning rigged search results that displayed only negative stories about himself.

Prior to levelling accusations against Google, Trump had also attacked Twitter, claiming that the social media platform was "SHADOW BANNING" conservative voices.

Facebook, too, has fallen prey to Trump's suspicion that social media companies are working against him and conservative politicians.

Fact: Trump had earlier warned Google, Twitter, and Facebook about consequences

"Google and Twitter and Facebook, they're really treading on very, very troubled territory. And they have to be careful. It's not fair to large portions of the population," Trump had warned earlier.

Intimidation?: Is Trump trying to crack down on editorial judgement?

While social media companies have said, in congressional hearings or otherwise, that their efforts to eliminate online harassment, hate speech etc. have sometimes resulted in erroneous censorship of both right and left political figures, Trump hasn't bought it.

However, even some right-leaning groups think that inquiries against social media companies would "accomplish through intimidation what the First Amendment bars: interference with editorial judgement."

Fact: Data shows that Americans share Trump's views on social media

Despite the concerns, data indicates most Americans share Trump's views. A Pew Research Centre survey conducted earlier this year found that 72% of Americans, and 85% of Republicans, think that social media companies are likely to intentionally censor political views that they find objectionable.