UPDATED with Twitter response: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the social media giant’s handling of an oddly sourced New York Post story about Hunter Biden was “wrong.”
Twitter disabled links to the story, eliciting an outcry by President Trump and the GOP and prompting the FCC to announce a review of longstanding rules on Internet company freedoms and the content that appears on their platforms.
Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that. https://t.co/ZLUw3YD887
— jack (@jack) October 16, 2020
Previously: The chairman of the FCC issued a statement on Thursday saying that he plans to move forward with efforts to clarify Section 230, the provision of a 1996 law that gives immunity to internet companies like Facebook and Twitter over the way that they moderate content.
Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement as President Donald Trump and his allies have blasted Twitter and Facebook for steps they have taken to restrict the sharing of a New York Post story on Hunter Biden. Twitter has disabled links to the story, and the Trump campaign said that its account was briefly locked after it tried to share it.
FCC Votes To Require Stations To Label Broadcasts Sponsored By Foreign Governments
“As elected officials consider whether to change the law, the question remains: What does Section 230 currently mean?” Pai said in a statement. “Many advance an overly broad interpretation that in some cases shields social media companies from consumer protection laws in a way that has no basis in the text of Section 230. The Commission’s General Counsel has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230. Consistent with this advice, I intend to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning.”
He added, “Throughout my tenure at the Federal Communications Commission, I have favored regulatory parity, transparency, and free expression. Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech. But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”
In May, after Twitter slapped a label on two of Trump’s tweets out of concern that they were election disinformation, the president issued an executive order to instruct federal agencies to move to modify Section 230, which was passed in 1996 as part of the Communications Decency Act. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration then petitioned the FCC to review it.
“Members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed serious concerns about the prevailing interpretation of the immunity set forth in Section 230 of the Communications Act,” Pai said. “There is bipartisan support in Congress to reform the law. The U.S. Department of Commerce has petitioned the Commission to ‘clarify ambiguities in section 230.’ And earlier this week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pointed out that courts have relied upon ‘policy and purpose arguments to grant sweeping protections to Internet platforms’ that appear to go far beyond the actual text of the provision.”
Twitter said that the Post story included materials that violated its hacked materials policy. The story included images of emails that allegedly came from Hunter Biden’s laptop, dropped off to a technician in Delaware. But the emails have not been verified as authentic.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), will vote on Tuesday on whether to issue a subpoena to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over the restrictions placed on the Post article.
Some Democrats also have called for modifying Section 230 — but for opposite reasons. As Trump and his allies claim that Section 230 have given platforms license to stifle content from the right, something social media giants deny, Democrats believe that Silicon Valley should be taking greater steps to curb misinformation.
But Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic appointee to the commission, criticized Pai for the statement.
“The timing of this effort is absurd. The FCC has no business being the president’s speech police,” she said in a statement.
The commission is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats. Two GOP appointees, Pai and Commissioner Brendan Carr, favor moving forward. The third, Michael O’Rielly, expressed some skepticism over such an effort, only to have his renomination to the FCC pulled. Trump then nominated telecom attorney Nathan Simington, a senior adviser at NTIA, to fill the slot. A hearing has not yet been scheduled on his nomination, even though Trump tweeted last week, “Republicans need to get smart and confirm Nate Simington to the FCC ASAP!”
On Thursday, Trump wrote on Twitter, “If Big Tech persists, in coordination with the mainstream media, we must immediately strip them of their Section 230 protections. When government granted these protections, they created a monster!”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.