US President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an order, seeking to strip social media giants like Twitter of legal immunity for content on their platforms in a move slammed by his critics as a legally dubious act of political revenge.
The executive order calls on government regulators to evaluate if online platforms should be eligible for liability protection for content posted by their millions of users.
Trump told media at the White House that he acted because big tech firms “have had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences.”
“We can’t let this continue to happen”, the President further added to his statement.
The move comes a day after an angry tirade from the US leader against Twitter after the platform for the first time labelled two of his tweets.
Earlier this week, in one of his tweets, Trump levelled some serious allegations against the mail-in-ballot system of voting ahead of presidential elections due this year.
Trump added, “Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”
The statement was made without presenting any evidence or fact.
However, critics have said that Trump has no authority to regulate private internet operators or change the law known as Section 230 which backers say has allowed online platforms like Facebook and Twitter to flourish.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a tweet, “The President has no authority to rewrite a congressional statute with an executive order imposing a flawed interpretation of Section 230.”
The White House seeks to sidestep the provisions giving internet firms immunity by treating them as publishers operating in part of a “public square.”
“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.” the executive order said.
According to the critics, the action represents a dangerous effort by the government to regulate online speech.
In response to Trump’s tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said, “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”
In a series of tweets, Dorsey clarified the social media platform’s stand on fake news ahead of elections. “This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”
On Wednesday, President Trump threatened to take action against Twitter after it added a fact-check section below his tweets on.
In his recent tweets, the US leader wrote, “Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!”
However, this is not the first time Twitter has taken action against a political leader regarding misinformation.
On March 29, 2020 Twitter removed two tweets by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in which he questioned quarantine measures aimed at containing the novel coronavirus, on the grounds that they violated the social network’s rules.
According to reports, Twitter explained in a statement that it had recently expanded its global rules on managing content that contradicted public health information from official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting COVID-19.
(With inputs from agency)