Republican Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O'Rielly has again suggested he doesn't want the agency to take up the White House's request to regulate social media.
“The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the government -- not private actors -- and we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way,” he said Wednesday in a speech delivered to The Media Institute.
“Like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making,” he added. “I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated for the Internet, especially at the ironic behest of so-called free speech 'defenders.'”
Last month, O'Rielly also voiced doubt over the FCC's ability to regulate social media.
His new remarks came several days after the Commerce Department petitioned the FCC for rules that could affect how social media companies treat posts by users. Specifically, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, acting on an order issued in May by President Trump, asked the FCC for regulations that would tie Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to web companies' content moderation policies. Section 230 currently protects web companies from liability for unlawful speech or activity by users.
Trump issued the order after Twitter alerted users to dubious claims in two of his tweets. The president, evidently incensed at the fact-check by Twitter, complained that social media companies engage in “selective censorship.”
The NTIA claims in its petition that social media platforms “appear to engage in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse,” but goes on to acknowledge a lack of proof of systematic viewpoint discrimination.
Chairman Ajit Pai has kept relatively quiet on the issue. But when his FCC repealed the Obama-era net neutrality rules, the agency took the position that Congress didn't want the agency to oversee the the web.
“The congressional record reflects that the drafters of section 230 did “not wish to have a Federal Computer Commission with an army of bureaucrats regulating the Internet,” the repeal order states, quoting a 1995 statement by former Rep. Chris Cox, a Republican from California.
The FCC's two Democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, have already called for the agency to swiftly reject the Commerce Department's petition.
By contrast, Republican Commissioner William Carr seemingly can't wait to start regulating social media.
“The Section 230 petition provides an opportunity to bring much-needed clarity to the statutory text,” Carr stated this week. “And it allows us to move forward in a way that will empower speakers to engage in ‘a forum for a true diversity of political discourse,’ as Congress envisioned when it passed Section 230.”
If the country can survive over 30 years without a broadcast Fairness Doctrine, I imagine it will also survive without the same discussion-squelching scheme for social media. Those of us old enough to remember the doctrine's chilling effect on anything deemed controversial will be happy to let information flow freely.