FCC commissioner says Trump’s Section 230 plan ‘does not work’

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There’s a growing divide at the Federal Communications Commission over a proposed executive order by the Trump administration to regulate speech on social media platforms.

In statements made Thursday, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr took opposing sides over an executive order targeting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Democrat Rosenworcel said that the order “is not the answer” while Republican Carr suggested that the proposal “makes sense.” If the current draft order is signed, the FCC would be at the helm of adjudicating complaints of social media bias online.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced plans to sign an executive order targeting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The law exempts social media companies from most liability for speech on their platforms, provided they make a good faith effort to remove unlawful posts. The Trump administration’s draft order harkens back to a failed effort to empower the Federal Communications Commission with the ability to determine whether a company no longer qualifies for the “good faith” provision of the law based on complaints fielded from the public.

“This does not work. Social media can be frustrating. But an Executive Order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the President’s speech police is not the answer,” Rosenworcel said in a statement Thursday. “It’s time for those in Washington to speak up for the First Amendment. History won’t be kind to silence.”

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, another Democrat, wrote “I’ll review the final Executive Order when it’s released and assess its impact on [the FCC], but one thing is clear: the 1st Amendment and Section 230 remain the law of the land and control here.”

Carr worked as an aid to Pai before Trump nominated him as an FCC commissioner in June 2017. In an interview with Yahoo Finance Thursday morning, Carr said “That [Section 230] has always said that if you engage in bad faith takedowns, you don’t get those bonus protections.” He continued, “I think given what we’ve seen over the last few weeks, it makes sense to let the public weigh-in and say ‘is that really what Congress meant” when they passed and provided those special protections.’”

Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said that the president “has right to seek review of statute’s application.” He continued, “As a conservative, I’m troubled voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders. At same time, I’m extremely dedicated to First Amendment which governs much here.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made his first public statement about the order Thursday evening, telling National Journal that “this debate is an important one” and that the FCC would “carefully review any petition for rulemaking” filed by the Commerce Department. Pai has previously remarked that “the greatest threat to a free and open internet has been the unregulated Silicon Valley tech giants that do, in fact, today decide what you see and what you don’t,” during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last summer.

When the Trump administration first proposed the idea to have the FCC regulate speech on the internet, agency officials privately argued that the White House’s efforts were unconstitutional, according to a CNN report.

Updated 5/28/20 at 5:30PM ET: Added statements from FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai, Mike O’Rielly, and Geoffrey Starks.

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