Washington: President Donald Trump said he would introduce legislation that might scrap or weaken a law that had protected internet companies, including Twitter and Facebook, in an extraordinary attempt to regulate social media platforms where he had been criticised.
The proposed legislation is part of an executive order Trump signed on Thursday afternoon. Trump had attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.
Trump wants to “remove or change” a provision of a law known as Section 230 that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users.
Trump said US Attorney General William Barr would begin drafting legislation “immediately” to regulate social media companies.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported the White House’s plan to modify Section 230 based on a copy of a draft executive order that, experts said, was unlikely to survive legal scrutiny. The final version of the order released on Thursday had no major changes except the proposal for a federal legislation.
“What I think we can say is we’re going to regulate it,” Trump said before the signing of the order.
“I’ve been called by Democrats that want to do this, so I think you could possibly have a bipartisan situation,” said Republican Trump, who is running for re-election in November.
Twitter did not comment on the executive order. A Google spokeswoman said “undermining Section 230 in this way would hurt America’s economy and its global leadership on internet freedom”.
A Facebook spokesman said repealing or limiting the provision will restrict more speech online and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone.
Trump’s remarks and the order, as written, attempt to circumvent Congress and the courts in directing changes to long-established interpretations of Section 230. It represents his latest attempt to use the tools of the presidency to force private companies to change policies that he believes are not favourable to him.
“In terms of presidential efforts to limit critical commentary about themselves, I think one would have to go back to the Sedition Act of 1798 – which made it illegal to say false things about the president and certain other public officials – to find an attack supposedly rooted in law by a president on any entity which comments or prints comments about public issues and public people,” said First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams.