President Trump's Thursday executive order directing federal agencies to clarify the scope of a law protecting companies such as Twitter from liability for content posted by users is "95% political theater," according to Stanford University internet law expert, Daphne Keller - who told Reuters it's "rhetoric without legal foundation, and without legal impact."
It is unclear if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will embrace Trump's view of the law known as Section 230, which governs the legal obligations of companies like Twitter and Facebook when it comes to what their users post.
Section 230 contains a provision that allows online platforms like Twitter and Facebook to take down or restrict access to material they determine “in good faith” to be lewd, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.
Such restrictions on internet content are generally lawful because the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech, only applies to government actors, not private companies. -Reuters
That said, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai appears to agree with Trump and his supporters that Twitter is selectively censoring content.
Pai's tweet, referencing several tweets by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for violence, comes on the same day Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) fired off a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling Twitter out for possible criminal violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, as well as breaking sanctions on Iran, by providing Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif use of the platform.
That said, Stanford's Keller isn't alone in suggesting that Trump's executive order lacks legal fangs.
Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer, said he agreed with Trump’s censorship concerns but acknowledged that much of the executive order would not lead to actual reforms.
“I think it’s much more of just a leadership statement, or a mission statement, than a blueprint for anything that’s really going to happen,” Randazza said. -Reuters
"A lot of the executive order is bluster," said St. John's University professor of internet law, Kate Klonick. "It basically casts aside 25 years of judicial precedent."
"It is unclear they (the FCC) are going to want to do something in which they would obviously get smacked down by a court order," she added.
Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin suggested that Trump EO was meant to frighten social media companies as a "shot across the bow."