The Federal Trade Commission lacks the authority to oversee how social media companies curate political speech, Chairman Joe Simons told the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday.
“Our authority focuses on commercial speech, not political content curation,” Simons told Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) at an oversight hearing.
Simons' statement came in response to questions from Wicker about President Trump's recent attempt to crack down on social media platforms. In May, Trump issued an executive order that directed the FTC to consider taking action if websites “restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.”
Trump said at the time that social media platforms were engaging in “selective censorship” based on viewpoint, despite a lack of empirical proof.
Wicker asked Simons if the agency had received complaints about the activity described in the executive order.
Simons responded that the FTC gets complaints about companies “from a wide variety of sources” -- including Congress, competitors and consumer watchdogs -- but only takes action if the complaint falls within the agency's jurisdiction.
“So you don't view political speech as within your jurisdiction?” Wicker asked.
“Correct,” Simons replied.
The FTC has long said it isn't empowered to regulate political speech.
In 2004, for example, the FTC rejected a complaint against Fox News by advocacy group MoveOn.org, which had asked the agency to investigate whether the company dupes the public with the slogan “fair and balanced.”
“I am not aware of any instance in which the Federal Trade Commission has investigated the slogan of a news organization,” former FTC Chair Timothy Muris stated on July 19, 2004. “There is no way to evaluate this petition without evaluating the content of the news at issue. That is a task the First Amendment leaves to the American people, not a government agency.”