Washington, 29 May 2020 (dpa/MIA) – US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that seeks to end special protections for some social media companies, as the president escalates his feud with Twitter after the platform fact-checked his tweets.
Trump said the executive order will allow federal regulators to end liability protections for social media companies like Facebook and Twitter that have restricted and policed content on their platforms.
“They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump said from the White House. “We’re fed up with it.”
The current interpretation of law protects social media platforms from being sued over content posted by a third party on their sites.
Trump said the liability shield should no longer apply to social media companies because they are acting as a “editor with a viewpoint” not a neutral platform.
The order is expected to face legal challenges and Attorney General Bill Barr said the Trump administration will pursue legislation in tandem with the executive order.
Twitter called the executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law,” on its Global Public Policy team’s account.
The law currently shielding internet speech, known as section 230, “protects American innovation and freedom of expression, and it’s underpinned by democratic values,” tweeted the team. “Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.”
Trump‘s move escalates a feud between the president and Twitter after the social media giant fact-checked two of Trump‘s tweets on mail-in voting, which were widely considered to be false.
The fact-check indicated the president was making false claims that voting by post would lead to mass fraud, amid a fight between Democrats and Trump over expanding voters’ ability to cast their ballots in this election year during a pandemic.
Twitter chief Jack Dorsey explained the tweet may have mislead voters into thinking they do not need to register for a ballot, indicating this was a particular category of concern as it could harm people’s ability to cast a vote.
Fact-checking “does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth,'” Dorsey said. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.”
Speaking from the White House, Trump said he would delete his Twitter account – featuring over 80 million followers – in a “heartbeat” but he needs the soapbox to bypass “fake news.”
Following Trump‘s executive order, a Facebook spokesperson called the social media giant a “platform for diverse views” and claimed that repealing or limiting section 230 “will restrict more speech online, not less.”
“We believe in protecting freedom of expression on our services, while protecting our community from harmful content including content designed to stop voters from exercising their right to vote,” an unnamed spokesperson said in a statement posted by Facebook Policy Communications Manager Andy Stone.
Earlier in the day, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg appeared to back Trump‘s stance against Twitter, saying major social media companies should not position themselves as the gatekeepers of political speech online.
“I don’t think Facebook, or internet platforms in general, should be arbiters of truth,” Zuckerberg said in an interview that aired Thursday on cable news channel CNBC, calling this a “dangerous line.”
Zuckerberg said that while Facebook does not want to be “determining what is true or false,” the company does have limits, including false medical information, voter suppression or hoaxes.
“There are lines, and we will enforce them,” Zuckerberg said.
“But, I think, in general, you want to give as wide a voice as possible, and give particular deference to political speech.”
In a separate interview with Fox, another cable channel, Zuckerberg said Facebook was determined to “give people a voice” and indicated he would also be opposed to government restrictions on free speech.