2019-08-11 by W.M.
White House proposal would have FCC and FTC police alleged social media censorship
If put into effect, the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.
According to the summary seen by CNN, the draft executive order currently carries the title “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship.” It claims that the White House has received more than 15,000 anecdotal complaints of social media platforms censoring American political discourse, the summary indicates. The Trump administration, in the draft order, will offer to share the complaints it’s received with the FTC.
The FTC will also be asked to open a public complaint docket, according to the summary, and to work with the FCC to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways. Companies whose monthly user base accounts for one-eighth of the U.S. population or more could find themselves facing scrutiny, the summary said, including but not limited to Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat.
From the start, the legislation has been interpreted to give tech companies the benefit of the doubt.
By comparison, according to the summary, the White House draft order asks the FCC to restrict the government’s view of the good-faith provision. Under the draft proposal, the FCC will be asked to find that social media sites do not qualify for the good-faith immunity if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.
Wyden, in the interview, called the proposal “horrible” and said neither the FTC nor the FCC are “exactly tripping over themselves… to carry it out.”
“I bet you scores of conservatives are turning over in their grave right now listening to all of these big government approaches,” Wyden said. “Their proposal today amounts to nothing short of a speech police.”
In its current form, the draft order could lead to significant questions about the role the FCC and FTC can play when it comes to interpreting and enforcing Section 230, an area they have previously left largely unaddressed. The effort to draft the order has been ongoing for some time, the people said, and the proposal remains subject to change.
“It makes no sense to involve the FCC here,” said Berin Szoka, president of the libertarian-leaning think tank TechFreedom. “They have rule-making authority, but no jurisdiction — they can’t possibly want to be involved. It would be an impossible position.”
The FTC and FCC both declined to comment.
The midday meeting is expected to involve five-minute presentations from the companies on their respective policies and projects, according to copies of an invitation obtained by CNN. The presentations will be followed by a group discussion on technology and the companies’ roles in fighting “signals of violence … while respecting free speech.”
Some people close to the tech industry expressed frustration that the White House seemed to be trying to have it both ways — excoriating tech companies for allegedly censoring conservative speech, a claim the platforms vigorously dispute, while castigating them for failing to block enough violent or hateful content.
“The internal inconsistency of this is outrageous,” one of them said.
— CNN Business’ Donie O’Sullivan contributed reporting.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described what content internet companies may be liable for under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.