The United States’ President, Donald Trump, has signed an executive order aimed at removing some of the legal protections enjoyed by social media platforms.
The development marks a new turn in the escalation of tension between Mr Trump and social networking platforms, especially Twitter.
The new order gives regulators the power to pursue legal actions against firms such as Facebook and Twitter for the way they allegedly censor content on their platforms.
While signing the order, which analysts say would face legal hurdles, Mr Trump accused social media platforms of having “unchecked power”.
Mr Trump has regularly accused social media platforms of stifling or censoring conservative voices.
On Thursday, Twitter added “get the facts about Covid-19” tags to two tweets from a Chinese government spokesman who claimed the coronavirus had originated in the U.S.
According to reports, the order sets out to clarify the Communications Decency Act, a U.S. law that offers online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube legal protection in certain situations.
Under Section 230 of the law, social networks are not generally held responsible for content posted by their users, but can engage in “good-Samaritan blocking”, such as removing content that is obscene, harassing or violent.
The order points out that this legal immunity does not apply if Mr Trump promised “big action” in response to Twitter’s decision to append a fact-check message to two of his posts.
Although the announcement of the order is significant and symbolic, analysts say it would face serious legal hurdles.
Independent government agencies will have to review federal law, promulgate new regulations, vote on them and then – in all likelihood – defend them in court. By the time it’s all over, analysts argued, the November presidential election would have held.
The executive order also calls for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to spell out what type of content blocking will be considered deceptive, pretextual or inconsistent with a service provider’s terms and conditions. Similarly, a review of government advertising on social-media sites and whether those platforms impose viewpoint-based restrictions is considered. It also looks into the re-establishment of the White House “tech bias reporting tool” that lets citizens report unfair treatment by social networks.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the tension between social networking platform, Twitter, and Mr Trump escalated on Wednesday when Mr Trump reacted angrily to a fact-check warning placed on some of his tweets.
Mr Trump took to his Twitter page to announce threats of regulation and a possible shutdown of social networking platforms.
“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen,” Mr Trump wrote in a tweet on Wednesday morning.
The Silicon Valley company had on Tuesday added the fact-check label to two tweets in which Mr Trump claimed that mail-in ballots were “fraudulent” and would lead to “a rigged election”. A link appears beneath the tweets which reads “Get the facts about mail-in ballots”, directing users to a page with news contents, tweets and a fact box that suggest the claim is unsubstantiated.
The U.S. President has battled publicly with state governors who want to encourage postal voting as a way to allow more people to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.
The media company has faced longstanding challenges with the United States’ president and one of its most popular, influential users. Twitter has been criticised for failing to crack down on tweets from the president which critics claim appeared to violate Twitter guidelines, while Mr Trump and other conservative figures have accused the platform of censorship
Twitter, Facebook react
In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said censoring a social media platform would not be the “right reflex” for the government.
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said.
“I think in general private companies probably shouldn’t be – especially these platform companies – shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
In its reaction, Twitter called the order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law.” it added that Section 230 “protects American innovation and freedom of expression, and it’s underpinned by democratic values”.
Google said it has “…clear content policies and we enforce them without regard to political viewpoint. Our platforms have empowered a wide range of people and organizations from across the political spectrum, giving them a voice and new ways to reach their audiences.”