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Trump challenges liability protections for social media companies in row over fact-checking

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President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants, in the Oval Office of the White House.
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants, in the Oval Office of the White House.   -   Copyright  Evan Vucci/AP Photo
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US President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday aimed at challenging liability protections for social media companies in an escalation of a row with Twitter.

Twitter had put a fact-checking alert on two Trump tweets earlier this week. The tweets had criticised mail-in ballots in an election, claiming they would be "fraudulent".

There is now a link reading "Get the facts about mail-in ballots" that guides users to a Twitter "moments" page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.

Trump's new executive order directs agencies such as the Federal Communication Commission to review regulations on social media companies.

Companies like Twitter and Facebook are granted liability protection because they are treated as “platforms," rather than “publishers,” which can face lawsuits over content.

Experts say however that changing this likely cannot be done without an act of Congress. A similar executive order was previously considered by the administration but shelved over concerns it couldn't pass legal muster and that it violated the ideas of deregulation and free speech.

Technology industry groups have warned the move would stifle innovation and speech on the internet.

An escalating row with Twitter

Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter and said it should cost those companies their protection from lawsuits for what is posted on their platforms.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company would continue to "point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally".

Trump relies heavily on Twitter which he uses to both criticise his foes, promote his platform and sometimes rant.

He and his allies, however, have long accused the tech giants in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley of targeting conservatives on social media by fact-checking them or removing their posts.

“We’re fed up with it," Trump said, claiming the order would uphold freedom of speech.

Twitter doubled down on its policy early Friday, flagging a post by the President as violating the platforms' rules against "glorifying violence".

Users were unable to like or share the post, unless it was retweeted with a comment.

Twitter stopped short of deleting it altogether, saying "it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."

Social media companies are gearing up to combat misinformation around the US presidential election in November.

Twitter and Facebook have already started rolling out new rules to avoid a repeat of the misleading postings about the candidates and the voting process that marred the 2016 election.