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Trump action against social media firms ‘political theatrics’, says expert

Social media expert Matt Navarra said the US President’s executive order aimed at online platforms was unlikely to change sites for users.

Donald Trump’s executive order targeting social media firms is “mostly political theatrics”, one industry expert has said.

The US President on Thursday signed an order aiming to remove some of the legal protections given to such platforms should they choose to block posts deemed to violate their guidelines.

It came after Twitter added fact-checking labels to two of Mr Trump’s tweets earlier this week, and a third has since been hidden behind a message saying it breaches the site’s rules on glorifying violence.

Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that social media sites are biased against him, accusing them of censoring him and other conservatives.

Social media consultant and industry expert Matt Navarra said the order would change little for the platforms or users, and was more about Mr Trump making a public, political statement against the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google.

“Trump’s executive order on social media is mostly political theatrics. Big headline-grabbing threats and demands which would be challenged in court,” he told the PA news agency.

“It’s largely toothless right now. It puts the platforms on warning that he may try to make life tougher for them and do them no favours, but that’s been the state of affairs between the two parties for some time now anyway.

“I suspect the major social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook will continue to stand firm with their position on moderation and fact-checking, whilst Trump will bang his drum and beat his chest a little while longer on this issue. This development pretty much changes nothing in the short term for users, or the platforms themselves.”

Mr Navarra said what concerned him more was the president’s “aggressive attacks on individual companies and its employees”.

“It also sets a worrying precedent for government censorship of the internet,” he said.

Greater UK regulation of internet platforms, particularly social media, is currently being developed, with more details of the Government’s Online Harms White Paper due to be published later this year.

In contrast to Mr Trump, the UK approach has focused on proposals to introduce a mandatory duty of care to users which tech firms must adhere to, with financial penalties and personal liability for executives among the proposed punishments.

Until more details on the UK’s plans are published, Mr Navarra said “Twitter users in the UK can sit on the sidelines of Trump’s battle and watch the verbal fireworks”.