The President signed an executive order a few months ago asking the FCC to look at whether social media companies like Twitter should lose their “section 230 immunity” if they are biased in their editing. It also asks the FCC to propose regulations regarding this. That was about six months ago.
I suspect that the FCC staff attorneys looked pretty hard to find anything in section 230 that gave them the authority to implement regulations like this. Note that the FCC does not regulate social media companies. There is nothing in the law that gives them that authority.
In fact, when Ajit Pai, the current chairman of the FCC came into office, he decided that the FCC didn’t even have authority to regulate Internet providers at all and so he decided to rescind the net neutrality regulations that were approved before he got there but had not yet gone into effect.
To me, it seems like a pretty big leap to say that we don’t have the authority to regulate Internet providers at all to say that in spite of that, we need to regulate social media companies.
Not terribly surprisingly, this announcement comes one day before Twitter and Facebook are set to testify before a House committee.
Pai does say a lot of things that I think are completely valid.
He says that these companies make a whole bunch of “algorithmic decisions” that the public customers of those companies have almost no visibility into. I think that is correct.
He also says that consumers have no insight into privacy issues on how their data is used. Also true.
He says that the public deserves to know more and these companies need to provide more transparency. Hard to argue with.
On the other hand, Pai, with the stroke of a pen, removed these exact same controls that were set to go into effect on Internet providers. Can he have it both ways?
These social media companies are between a rock and a hard place. If they remove content they are said to be biased. If they leave content up, they are said to be pandering to extremists (and also to their advertising click counts).
All of this could be useful, however, if the House and Senate could, for once, do the job for which they are being paid, and pass legislation that addresses some of these issues. Removing section 230 immunity is one of those things that fall into the category of “be careful what you wish for”.
It certainly seems odd that Pai decided to make this announcement a couple of weeks before the election and on the eve of Twitter and Facebook testifying. It does not seem terribly “expeditiously” as the President asked Pai to do 5 months ago in his EO. Part of that is because an EO does not have the force of law. It is more like your boss sending you a memo to do something. Your boss might get made or he might even fire you, but that is about, for the most part, where it ends.
Also remember that Pai writing about the subject in his blog after 5 months is a whole lot different than him and the commission actually doing anything or even proposing anything or even saying they are going to start looking at anything. In fact, it is not clear what it means at all. Credit: The Verge