Today, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Trump Administration. The lawsuit seeks to obtain records that the Administration ordered to be gathered under the May 28th “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship,” to assess how federal agencies spend money on digital advertising – a step that continues President Trump’s broad attack on social media platforms with whom he doesn’t agree.
The advertising provision of the social media Executive Order instructs federal agencies to report to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the amounts they spend on advertising and marketing on particular online platforms, and instructs the Department of Justice to review such platforms for so-called “viewpoint discrimination,” paving the way for the Administration to block government spending on online platforms it dislikes. The provision is yet another aspect of the Executive Order’s unconstitutional effort to coerce social media platforms into moderating content as the Administration sees fit.
“We have seen repeatedly that this executive branch attempts to intimidate social media companies into moderating speech according to the President’s whims,” said Avery Gardiner, CDT’s General Counsel. “This is especially dangerous as the risks of voter suppression and disinformation grow rapidly in an election year.”
The lawsuit filed today follows up on FOIA requests filed by CDT and EFF to obtain the records gathered by OMB pursuant to the Order, so that the public can better understand how the Order is being enforced. Federal law mandates that the government must respond to Freedom of Information Act requests within 30 days, but the Administration has ignored the requests.
“The government can’t abuse its purse power to coerce online platforms to adopt the president’s view of what it means to be ‘neutral,’” said EFF Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey. “The public has a right to know how the government is carrying out the executive order and if there’s evidence that the president is retaliating against platforms by reducing ad spending.”
CDT has filed a lawsuit challenging the Executive Order for violating the First Amendment, and EFF represents clients that are also challenging the order, but today’s FOIA lawsuit is separate from those cases.
For more information about CDT’s litigation against the Executive Order, visit cdt.org.