Cooley + Nonprofits Challenge Executive Order Threatening Social Media Censorship

With Electronic Frontier Foundation and Protect Democracy, firm seeks to safeguard First Amendment rights, ensure voter fairness in election year

Washington, DC – August 27, 2020 – Cooley, alongside nonprofits Electronic Frontier Foundation and Protect Democracy, has filed a complaint on behalf of five voter advocacy organizations against President Donald Trump and others in his administration over an executive order purporting to “prevent online censorship.” The plaintiffs are Rock the Vote, Common Cause, Free Press, MapLight and Voto Latino. Partners Michael Rhodes, Travis LeBlanc, Kathleen Hartnett and Bethany Lobo are leading the Cooley effort. 

“We joined this cause to protect voters’ access to accurate information about voting during the pandemic, free from unconstitutional governmental meddling that is being done to advance a particular political viewpoint,” said Rhodes, who also chairs Cooley’s global cyber/data/privacy and internet practices. “We want all voters to be able to make informed and independent political choices and that requires protecting online platforms' ability to curate information without fear of reprisal from the federal government.”  

The executive order, signed on May 28, challenges Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows online services like social media platforms to host and moderate diverse forums of users’ speech without being liable for the users’ content. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, argues that the executive order is designed to chill social media companies from moderating the president’s content in a way that he dislikes – particularly surrounding false statements about elections. 

The plaintiffs are nonprofit organizations that rely on and encourage social media platforms and other intermediary online platforms to raise voter awareness, increase voter turnout, promote political discourse for traditionally underrepresented groups and combat misinformation on online platforms, including with respect to voting. 

Read the complaint

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Related Contacts
Michael Rhodes  Partner San Francisco, Los Angeles – Downtown
Travis LeBlanc  Partner Washington, DC, San Francisco
Kathleen R. Hartnett  Partner San Francisco
Bethany Lobo  Partner San Francisco
Related Practices & Industries

Pro Bono  Cyber/Data/Privacy