By John D. McKinnon 

WASHINGTON -- A group that promotes online rights filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump's executive order targeting social-media companies, contending it violates First Amendment rights of the firms and their users.

The suit, filed by the Center for Democracy and Technology on Tuesday in federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeks to have the order invalidated.

Supported by foundations, corporations and individuals, the group says last week's order "seeks to curtail and chill the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals."

The suit says the order also was "plainly retaliatory" against Twitter Inc.

Mr. Trump signed the executive order on Thursday after Twitter two days earlier had moved for the first time to apply a fact-checking notice to his tweets on the subject of voter fraud.

The White House referred questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.

Legal challenges to the executive order had been expected.

Some legal experts expect further lawsuits, particularly if federal agencies begin to implement the president's order.

But even some critics of Mr. Trump said privately last week that the order -- which administration lawyers worked on for months -- was carefully crafted and could prove hard to block.

In essence, the order urges federal agencies to adopt new rules and policies that could limit the legal protections Washington established for online platforms in the 1990s. Those protections were created by Congress in Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which shields the platforms from liability for actions of their users, and gives them wide latitude to police their sites.

The CDT lawsuit focuses instead on the broader First Amendment impacts of the order. It contends the new executive order violates the free-speech rights of the companies, by improperly curbing their ability to suspend accounts or delete posts.

Speaking in the Oval Office on Thursday as he prepared to sign the order, Mr. Trump accused Twitter of acting as an editor "with a viewpoint" and described the platform's fact-check of his tweets as "political activism."

"We're here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers, " the president said.

Twitter last week described the executive order as "a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law." It said Section 230 protects innovation and freedom of expression, and that "attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and internet freedoms."

Other tech firms, such as Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google, criticized the order as well.

CDT receives much of its funding from tech-related sources, and its board and advisory council include several people with ties to social-media firms.

The group said it endeavors to maintain a diverse base of support, and that its financial backers "have no influence or control over CDT's projects or priorities."


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 02, 2020 20:03 ET (00:03 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.