US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order aimed at removing some of the legal protections given to social media platforms.
It gives regulators the power to pursue legal actions against firms such as Facebook and Twitter for the way they police content on their platforms.
President Trump accused social media platforms of having “unchecked power” while signing the order.
The order is expected to face legal challenges.
Legal experts says the US Congress or the court system must be involved to change the current legal understanding of protections for these platforms.
Mr Trump has regularly accused social media platforms of stifling or censoring conservative voices.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump accused Twitter of election interference, after it added fact-check links to two of his tweets.
On Thursday, Twitter added “get the facts about Covid-19” tags to two tweets from a Chinese government spokesman who claimed the coronavirus had originated in the US.
What does the executive order say?
The order sets out to clarify the Communications Decency Act, a US law that offers online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube legal protection in certain situations.
Under Section 230 of the law, social networks are not generally held responsible for content posted by their users, but can engage in “good-Samaritan blocking”, such as removing content that is obscene, harassing or violent.
The executive order points out that this legal immunity does not apply if a social network edits content posted by its users, and calls for legislation from Congress to “remove or change” section 230. Mr Trump said Attorney General William Barr will “immediately” begin crafting a law for Congress to later vote on.
It also says “deceptive” blocking of posts, including removing a post for reasons other than those described in a website’s terms of service, should not be offered immunity.
Republican senator Marco Rubio is among those arguing that the platforms take on the role of a “publisher” when they add fact-check labels to specific posts.
“The law still protects social media companies like Twitter because they are considered forums not publishers,” Mr Rubio said.
“But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher, then they should no longer be shielded from liability and treated as publishers under the law.”
The executive order also calls for:
- the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to spell out what type of content blocking will be considered deceptive, pretextual or inconsistent with a service provider’s terms and conditions
- a review of government advertising on social-media sites and whether those platforms impose viewpoint-based restrictions
- the re-establishment of the White House “tech bias reporting tool” that lets citizens report unfair treatment by social networks