After last Wednesday's insurrection at the Capitol, Twitter and other platforms shut down President Trump's social media accounts. They did this because Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act allows social media companies — without liability — to take voluntary good faith actions to restrict access to or availability of "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable" material. Interestingly, it is unclear whether this provision grants immunity for the fact-checking notices of context that Twitter applied since May to President Trump's Tweets alleging voter fraud.
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An ordinary citizen's similar Tweets would be removed, but Twitter developed a "public interest exception" for "Tweets from elected and government officials — given the significant public interest in knowing and being able to discuss their actions and statements." As a result, Twitter permitted Trump — for eight months, albeit with notice of context — to make false statements about the election that became the insurrection's impetus. Then, after the insurrection, they took all the Tweets down and stripped Trump’s access to the platform.
Trump has vehemently argued that social media company fact-checking, context notices, and access restriction interfere with his freedom of speech, and he repeatedly has sought Section 230's repeal. However, fact-checking the president — at its core — isn't a free speech issue: It's a free press issue.
While both First Amendment rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not the same. Justice Potter Stewart addressed the distinction between the two in a 1975 law school speech subsequently converted into a law review article entitled, "Or of the Press." Notably, freedom of speech is an individual right. "In contrast," Stewart observed, "the Free Press Clause extends protection to an institution. The publishing business is, in short, the only organized private business that is given explicit constitutional protection." Noting the origins and constitutional debates about the checks and balances among the three branches, Stewart said, "The primary purpose of the constitutional guarantee of a free press was a similar one: to create a fourth institution outside the Government as an additional check on the three official branches." That makes fact-checking the Executive branch a constitutional mandate for the Legislative and Judicial branches – and for the Fourth Estate. Read more at The Hill