Welcome to the Friday Tech Fix for May 29, 2020. As I mention over at my weekly newsletter, The Extra Mighell, this was a heck of a time to start blogging and writing about technology news. There just hasn’t been much of it, given the obvious slowdowns. But there was one really big tech news story this week, one that is likely to stick around for a while.

An Internet-Shaking Executive Order

This week, Twitter did something for the very first time: it fact-checked one of the President’s tweets. To do this, Twitter inserted a link in the President’s tweet (on the topic of mail-in ballots and fraud in California) that said “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”

In response, the President issued An Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship (4/17/2021 update: the Executive Order has since been rescinded), causing an uproar across the tech community. In summary, the order requests the following:

  • An examination of whether social media platforms – and this means all social media platforms, not just Twitter – enjoy immunity from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as has been previously understood.
  • That federal taxpayer dollars not fund or finance online platforms that restrict free speech
  • That both federal and state agencies should review whether any social media platform engages in unfair or deceptive acts

    Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

Why lawyers should care. First of all, this whole thing presents a lot of meaty legal issues – First Amendment, interpretation of federal law, potential new legislation – what’s not for lawyers to like? But thinking beyond that, realize that most of you are utilizing, in some way, the social media platforms that this executive order seeks to affect. If the executive order is successful (which will take a while to determine – there are likely to be many legal challenges to it), it could mean significant changes about how social media platforms treat information posted by you, the user. The change could be good, it could be bad – who knows at this point?

We may finally be getting closer to addressing the question that’s been lingering for years with regard to social media: should anyone beyond you and me get to “decide” what’s true and what’s not true? We all obviously have the power ourselves to determine what’s true and what’s not, I just don’t think it’s quite that simple. Which may explain why we find ourselves in the current situation.

I try very hard not to post anything political on this blog – I view technology as a very bi-partisan medium. But sometimes politics comes barreling right into technology, and I can’t help but talk about it. I won’t engage on the merits of the executive order or the political implications, but I do think this topic deserves attention so we are prepared for whatever comes next.