The Federal Communications Commission Monday asked the public to weigh in on the Commerce Department's request for new regulations that could affect how social media companies treat posts by users.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Monday the agency was required to seek comments on the controversial petition filed last week by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That agency, following a directive from President Trump, asked the FCC for rules that would tie web companies' legal protections for users' speech to the companies' content moderation policies.
“Longstanding rules require the agency to put such petitions out for public comment ‘promptly,’ and we will follow that requirement here,” Pai stated. “The American people deserve to have a say, and we will give them that chance.”
The NTIA's petition came two months after President Donald Trump accused social media companies of engaging in “selective censorship” based on political viewpoints. He made the claim after Twitter alerted users to dubious statements in two of his tweets.
Currently, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook from lawsuits based on material posted by users.
The NTIA's 57-page petition asks the FCC for new rules “guiding the interpretation of section 230.”
That petition appears to acknowledge there is no proof of systematic viewpoint discrimination by web platforms.
Many in the media and advertising industry -- including the Association of National Advertisers -- have argued that an attempt to regulate web companies' editorial policies by tying them to Section 230 protection would violate the First Amendment.
The agency's two Democratic commissioners -- Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks -- have made clear they believe the FCC lacks the authority to regulate social media platforms.
A third commissioner, Republican Michael O'Rielly, has voiced skepticism about the White House's request.
“Like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making,” he said last week in a speech delivered to The Media Institute. “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.'”
By contrast, Republican Commissioner William Carr has spoken approvingly of the NTIA's petition, saying it “provides an opportunity to bring much-needed clarity to the statutory text.”
The FCC will accept comments for the next 45 days.