Trump seeks to use defence bill to strip social media groups of immunity

Donald Trump has threatened to veto the US defence bill unless Congress includes language in the legislation to strip social media companies of legal protections over content posted on their platforms.

Mr Trump said he would not sign the annual defence spending bill unless lawmakers used the legislation to rescind part of the Communications Decency Act — known as Section 230 — that guarantees immunity for social media companies from being prosecuted for libellous content that users post.

The president has argued that social media companies were biased against conservative politicians and wanted to damage his chances of re-election.

Mr Trump wrote on Twitter that Section 230 was a “serious threat” to national security and election integrity: “If the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act . . . I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill.”

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The threat to veto the defence appropriations bill — which is considered “must pass”, because it is required to pay the salaries of the armed forces — complicates year-end budget negotiations. The House and Senate have passed versions of the $740bn bill and are preparing to convert their two separate drafts into one reconciled bill for a final vote.

But the bill offers the Trump administration one of its few remaining chances to persuade Congress to repeal Section 230. Mr Trump had previously threatened to veto the bill if lawmakers did not remove a measure requiring the Pentagon redesignate military bases named for Confederate generals, who are associated with supporting slavery.

US media suggested that the US president was willing to accept that measure if lawmakers eliminated Section 230.

Mr Trump had long advocated for the repeal of social media companies’ immunity repeal as part of his wider battle against large technology companies. But the US president stepped up his level of vitriol after Twitter attached fact-check warnings to tweets he posted during the presidential campaign that claimed that postal ballots would be “substantially fraudulent”.

Two days later, the president signed an executive order instructing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ask the Federal Communications Commission, a federal government agency, to limit the scope of Section 230.

Mr Trump said he wanted to make it harder for Twitter and other platforms to remove content without giving users a “reasonable explanation”, adequate notice or opportunity to respond. Last month Ajit Pai, FCC chairman, said he intended to issue a new rule “clarifying” the scope of Section 230, but has not made any move to do so.

Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, has amassed bipartisan support around a proposal to create a national commission to establish best practices for technology companies to follow if they want to qualify for legal immunity.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, last month said he would support an attempt to narrow the scope of the law, but he did not identify which proposals he backed.

Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday declined to comment on the president’s statement. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Joe Biden, the US president-elect, has also called for the repeal of Section 230, but his allies say it is unlikely to be a high priority once he takes office on January 20.

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