President Donald Trump has signed an executive order against social media companies that aims to remove some of their legal protection.

The order will allow US officials to pursue legal action against big tech firms like Facebook and Twitter over the way they monitor content on their platforms. It comes after Mr Trump threatened to shut down social media on Wednesday after a new Twitter policy saw two of his tweets fact-checked.

Speaking from the Oval Office ahead of signing the order, Mr Trump said he was doing so to ‘defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history’.

‘A small handful of social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States,’ he claimed. ‘They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter, virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences.’

The order is set to pressure regulators including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether they can place new rules on social media companies.

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However, experts doubt that much could be legally changed without the involvement of the US Congress or court system.

The order will work to amend the Communications Decency Act – a law that gives online platforms legal protection in certain cases.

Under Section 230, tech companies generally have immunity from civil cases as they are treated as ‘platforms’ rather than ‘publishers’ and are not held responsible for their users’ posts.

It allows the firms to block or remove content which could be considered harassing or violent.

The executive order says that this immunity should not apply if the social media company edits users’ content and seeks to ‘remove or change’ Section 230.

Twitter said the executive order was a ‘reactionary and politicised approach to a landmark law’.

The firm said in a tweet: ‘#Section230 protects American innovation and freedom of expression, and it’s underpinned by democratic values. Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and internet freedoms.’

This morning Twitter went for the president again and blocked a tweet referring to the George Floyd protests, in which he said ‘when the looting starts the shooting starts’.

Twitter removed the tweet as it ‘glorified violence,’ after he threatened to send in the military to deal with the protests taking place across the US calling for justice for Mr Floyd who died after white cops restrained him by kneeling on his neck until he went unconscious.

The president lashed out at Twitter on Wednesday for policing his tweets for the first time, in which he claimed that postal voting was ‘fraudulent’ and that ‘mail boxes will be robbed’.

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Under the tweets, a link appeared reading ‘Get the facts about mail-in ballots’ that guides users to a Twitter Moments page with fact checks and news stories about the president’s unsubstantiated claims.

Mr Trump also accused Twitter of ‘interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election’ and insisting ‘as president, I will not allow this to happen.’ His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said Twitter’s ‘clear political bias’ had led the campaign to pull ‘all our advertising from Twitter months ago.’

Twitter has banned all political advertising since last November.

Mr Trump claimed tech giants ‘silence conservative voices,’ as he was backed by Republican senator Marcio Rubio who argued that social media platforms take on a ‘publisher’ role when they fact-check users’ content.

‘Currently, social media giants like Twitter received unprecedented viability shield based on the theory that they are a neutral platform, which they are not,’ Mr Trump later added.

‘We are fed up with it. It is unfair, and it’s been very unfair.’

A similar executive order was previously considered by the administration but shelved over concerns it couldn’t pass legal muster and that it violated conservative principles on deregulation and free speech.

If the executive order is upheld by regulators and federal courts, it was not clear how that could affect Twitter’s efforts to fact check Trump’s tweets.

The company’s first use of a label on Trump’s tweets comes as platforms gear up to combat misinformation around the US presidential election.

Twitter and Facebook have begun rolling out dozens of new rules to avoid a repeat of the false posts shared about the candidates and the voting process that marred the 2016 election.

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The coronavirus pandemic has further escalated the platforms’ response, leading them to take actions against politicians – a move they’ve long resisted – who make misleading claims about the virus.

Last month, Twitter created a ‘Get the Facts’ label to direct social media users to news articles from trusted outlets next to tweets containing misleading or disputed information about the virus.

Company leaders said the new labels could be applied to anyone on Twitter and they were considering using them on other topics. Twitter has said it will decide internally when to use a label, and on which tweets, and will draw from information curated from news outlets.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News on Wednesday his platform has ‘a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this’.

He added: ‘I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.’

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