The Association of National Advertisers is going to wait to pass judgment on the impact on ANA members of President Donald Trump's executive order seeking to eliminate social media censorship of political speech, but ANA General Counsel Douglas Wood is making it clear he "abhors" the order.
Wood said in a statement released by ANA that, as a legal matter and a First Amendment matter, politicians are free to lie and websites are free to censor those constitutionally protected lies. "If a platform is following the rules it adopted in good faith, it is free to censor. They are private enterprises, not the government.
But that freedom of liability from censoring protected speech comes from Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is the section the President wants Congress to eliminate and, in the interim, wants the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, to clarify--and weaken--the section.
Or, as Wood puts it, "[I]f the platforms continue to censor speech that the platforms deem misleading (or place tags on a post that cast doubt on its accuracy or refer users to other information) they will face the wrath of the DOJ, FTC, and God only knows whom else." He said that the "weaponizing" in the President's executive order is "an improper government intrusion on free speech."
"So, if Facebook decides tomorrow that it wants to crack down on political lies – by Democrats or Republicans –it is free to do that," says Wood. "And properly so. Nor is it the government’s role to decide when those decisions are fair or discriminatory. That is not a standard of oversight authorized under the First Amendment. If it were, then free speech would change like the wind with every change in the Administration or shift in Congressional control."
Wood said that while he may not agree with or like the policies of Facebook or Twitter or other platforms, and recognizes the threat those powerful players pose to the common good if they act irresponsibly, but said that if he has to choose between those and government arbitration of what should and shouldn't be said, it's "no contest."
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