Gaetz drafting legislation aimed at social media role in electoral process
WASHINGTON, D.C. — One day before President Donald Trump was set to issue a Thursday executive order that could set the stage for sanctioning social media platforms for the way they handle their content, Rep. Matt Gaetz, announced that he and his Republican colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee are drafting legislation aimed at that same goal.
In the Wednesday installment of his podcast, “Hot Takes With Matt Gaetz,” the congressman said the proposed legislation would target Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Trump’s executive order also was reportedly aimed at that section of federal law.
Broadly, Section 230 provides liability protections for social media services like Twitter, Facebook and others, on the grounds that they are not publishers of the information that appears on their sites, but are merely platforms for expression.
That distinction was brought into sharp relief as Twitter began this week to append fact-checking labels to some of President Trump’s tweets, including recent tweets contending mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud. Other recent Twitter posts by Trump also have been problematic, including his repeated references to the 2001 death of Lori Klausitis, a former staffer for then-U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, in Scarborough’s office in Fort Walton Beach.
Officials concluded that Klausitis died from a fall in which she struck her head on the edge of a desk in the otherwise unoccupied office, but Trump has been suggesting on Twitter that Scarborough was somehow involved with the death.
But with regard to electoral politics, Gaetz said on his Wednesday podcast that social media platforms’ handling of content raises serious policy questions.
“And so it is an important question, not of politics, but of policy,” Gaetz said. “Are we going to treat entities like Twitter, like Facebook, like Google, as unbiased platforms, or are they going to take on more the role of a news organization — an aggregator, someone who is creating, enhancing or limiting various content?”
More specifically, Gaetz said, “Twitter, yet again, is choosing to enter the political fray as a fact-checker now, indicating that on President Trump’s tweets, they are going to provide their analysis of whether or not they believe the contents of those tweets to be true.”
Gaetz went on to say that the “initial play from Twitter seems to be that they’re not merely going to provide a place for people to share their ideas, they’re going to add their analysis to those ideas, whether you like them or not. And we’re perhaps left to wonder whether or not that’s going to impact who sees them, and when they see them, and how frequently they see them.“
Taking action to rein in social media services is particularly important in this election year, Gaetz argues, because the ongoing work to limit the spread of COVID-19 is limiting opportunities for large gatherings like campaign rallies and political conventions.
“And so, digitally, we see the stakes higher than they’ve ever been,” Gaetz said on his podcast. In fact, Gaetz added in a Thursday interview, it was the restrictions put in place to help control the spread of COVID-19 that prompted him to communicate digitally via his new podcast.
“I haven’t had an ’Open Gaetz’ Day in months,” the congressman said, referencing what had been his frequent personal appearances throughout the district.
Gaetz also said Thursday, prior to President Trump’s issuance of an executive order, that whatever the order said, it wouldn’t halt work on the legislative proposal on which he and his Republican colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee are now working.
Instead, he said, both the executive order and the legislation will be part of a three-pronged effort, also involving enforcement by the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, to address the role of social media platforms in the political process.
“We’re going to be turning up the heat,” Gaetz said.