Donald Trump has signed an executive order against social media companies in a bid to radically overhaul how comments are moderated online.
The proposal, which the US President inked on Friday (Australian time), would prevent big technology companies restricting what people say on their social media pages.
It follows Twitter’s move to fact-check two of Mr Trump’s tweets which the social media giant described as “potentially misleading”, sparking a barrage of criticism from the president who claimed it was suppressing conservative views.
Mr Trump has used Twitter throughout his presidency to communicate directly with followers but the accuracy of the information posted has often come under question.
He said Twitter’s fact checks on his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting, were “editorial decisions” and amounted to political activism.
The president said his administration may “remove or change” a law which has so far protected social media companies from liability for content posted by their users.
The president also said US Attorney General William Barr would pursue legislation to regulate social media companies.
Facebook and Twitter did not immediately comment on the executive order.
The President’s remarks and the draft order, as written, attempt to circumvent Congress and the courts in directing changes to long-established interpretations of Section 230.
“We’re fed up with it,” Mr Trump said, claiming the order would uphold freedom of speech.
Ahead of the anticipated signing of the order, Mr Trump tweeted: “This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!”
This will be a Big Day for Social Media and FAIRNESS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
However, an attempt to regulate the actions of private actors could have considerable implications for the regulation of free speech.
The draft proposal suggests online companies that want to restrict someone from using or commenting on their platform will have to first go through a legal hearing.
And if they take other actions that are not in line with the terms of service, they risk losing the protection of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
That means the companies may face liability for whatever is posted on their platform and how they choose to moderate content on their page.
Section 230 was originally created to protect the owners of any “interactive computer service” from liability for anything posted by third parties.
That all could change with Mr Trump’s executive order which will allow the Federal Communications Commission to rethink the scope of the law.
“As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the Internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our businesses, our newspapers and our homes,” the draft reads.
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online.”
Policy experts say the executive order isn’t entirely legal.
Jon Berroya, interim president of the Internet Association, told Business Insider Mr Trump’s order was “designed to punish a handful of companies for perceived slights” and that the document is “inconsistent with the purpose and text of Section 230″.
“It stands to undermine a variety of government efforts to protect public safety and spread critical information online through social media and threatens the vibrancy of a core segment of our economy,” he added.