Rock the Vote filed a lawsuit against President Trump and several members of his staff on Thursday, claiming that his May 28th executive order preventing online censorship is infringing on their First Amendment rights.
President Trump’s executive order on preventing online censorship seeks to narrow the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently protects social media sites from facing legal liability for the actions of those using their services.
It is the stated goal of Trump’s order to protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans on social media platforms that have become the “21st century equivalent of the public square.”
The order cited the experience of “tens of thousands of Americans” whose posts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been flagged as inappropriate or deleted altogether;”unannounced and unexplained” changes to policy; and partnerships between China and social media platforms that furthers Chinese propaganda.
“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events,” reads the order; “to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.”
The complaint filed against President Trump argues that the inability to correct misinformation online is actually an infringement of the free speech rights of social media companies.
Social media sites, the lawsuit claims, “have First Amendment rights to ensure that accurate information — including about how to register to vote and successfully cast a ballot by Election Day — is not undermined by misinformation on their platforms.”
Rock the Vote is a left-leaning organization that advocates for voter participation nationwide, especially among young people. Other organizations that have joined them in this lawsuit include Free Press and MapLight, both of which endeavor to correct misinformation and fight hate speech posted online. The groups argue that the order impedes their efforts.
“The effect of the Executive Order,” reads the complaint, “— encouraging the spread of misinformation about vote-by-mail, impeding voter registration initiatives, discouraging broader access to voting, and encouraging the spread of other kinds of misinformation and harmful content — flies in the face of the critical purposes Plaintiffs serve, frustrates their missions, and will require them to divert scarce resources to combat misinformation,” states the complaint.
Although describing themselves as non-partisan, Rock the Vote lists several left-leaning organizations as partners on their website, such as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, ACLU San Diego, and the Women’s March.
Additionally, Rock the Vote released a music video to encourage young people to vote in the 2014 mid-term elections. In the video – titled “Turnout For What” and featuring celebrities Lil John, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lena Dunham – progressive policy initiatives take the lead: marriage equality, reproductive rights, gun control, climate change, and marijuana legalization.
Rock the Vote’s lawsuit argues that the spreading of misinformation online “creates confusion for voters, hampers education and advocacy efforts to make elections safe and accessible through procedures such as absentee voting and vote-by mail, and undermines faith in election systems.”
Further, “Online platforms’ moderation function is essential to correct the spread of false information, and that moderation function is protected by the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would bar the Trump administration from enforcing the executive order.