According to an early draft of an Executive Order (EO), the White House will instruct federal law enforcement and antitrust agencies to launch investigations into the business practices of Facebook, Google and other social media companies, according to Bloomberg which says it has seen the draft.
While not specifically calling out companies by name, the document orders US antitrust officials to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws,” while instructing other agencies to return recommendations within a month of Trump signing the EO which could potentially “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”
The document doesn’t name any specific companies. If signed, the order would represent a significant escalation of Trump’s antipathy toward Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies, whom he has publicly accused of silencing conservative voices and news sources online.
The draft order directs that any actions federal agencies take should be “consistent with other laws” — an apparent nod to concerns that it could threaten the traditional independence of U.S. law enforcement or conflict with the First Amendment, which protects political views from government regulation. –Bloomberg
Last month, Trump tweeted that “Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others.”
And in a late August Bloomberg interview, the President said that Google, Amazon and Facebook may be in a “very antitrust situation,” while refusing to comment further.
According to the President, social media platforms are “treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful.“
“I think Google has really taken advantage of a lot of people and I think that’s a very serious thing and it’s a very serious charge,” Trump told reporters following a meeting with the president of FIFA. “They better be careful because they can’t do that to people.“
Trump also accused Google of rigging search results against him, tweeting: “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD, Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal,” Trump said in his latest claim of bias by the media. 96% of results on “Trump News” are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous.”
Trump followed up with: “Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
According to Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans, and in particular 85% of Republicans and right-leaning independents think social media companies purposefully censor political viewpoints which run counter to their internal culture.
The belief that technology companies are politically biased and/or engaged in suppression of political speech is especially widespread among Republicans. Fully 85% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think it likely that social media sites intentionally censor political viewpoints, with 54% saying this is very likely. And a majority of Republicans (64%) think major technology companies as a whole support the views of liberals over conservatives. –Pew
That said, libertarian-leaning group, the American Legislative Exchange Council have expressed concern to Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he announced an upcoming meeting with state Attorneys General to discuss social media bias. The group cites concerns over abuse of antitrust laws, and that the “inquiry will be to accomplish through intimidation what the First Amendment bars: interference with editorial judgement.”