Officials from the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission reportedly are pushing back against a proposal that would task them with regulating social media companies' editorial policies.
The agency officials have voiced concerns that an attempt by them to police content on social media would violate the First Amendment, CNN reported Thursday. The officials were reportedly responding to a draft of a executive order aimed at discouraging web companies from removing posts for political reasons.
That draft order would task the FCC with crafting regulations tying web companies' legal protections to their content moderation policies, according to CNN. The order would also require the FTC to examine content moderation policies when investigating companies.
While the details are vague, the potential order appears similar to a recent legislative proposal by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), who also wants to link web platforms' legal protections to their content practices.
Specifically, Hawley's proposed bill would strip large online platforms of the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, unless the companies prove to the FTC that they don't discriminate based on politics or viewpoint. Section 230, considered one of the most important laws affecting the internet, immunizes tech platforms from liability for users' speech.
The reported draft order, like the legislative proposal, reflects complaints leveled by President Trump and other conservatives that tech companies discriminate against right-wing views. No empirical evidence has yet surfaced to support those complaints. On the contrary, the evidence that exists shows that web companies don't single out conservative speech for special treatment: New York Law School professor Ari Waldman, who has studied the issue, testified to Congress that web companies don't appear to be suppressing speech based on political views.
"Lots of content gets filtered out, but no more so from the right than from the left," Waldman told Congress last year.
Hawley's proposed bill was met with immediate criticism from many industry observers, including former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright.
“The most obvious point ... is that a 'Fairness Doctrine' for the internet is a bad idea,” Wright said on Twitter. “The bill quite literally injects a board of bureaucrats into millions of decisions about internet content. This is central planning. Full stop.”
Tech companies have faced numerous lawsuits by people and organizations who claim they were “censored” online -- often because their posts were removed, or their accounts suspended. To date, judges have sided with tech companies, ruling that they have the right to decide how to treat content on their platforms.